Thursday, August 30, 2007


My preschooler has asthma, so this story caught my attention:

The National Institutes of Health announced new guidelines for treating asthma. Instead of just focusing on attacks, NIH wants doctors to spend more time on prevention. They want patients to get written plans on how to manage the disease. And they want doctors to periodically monitor a patient's lung function to determine future risk -- even if they have few symptoms.

Why the focus? For one, kids are going back to school, where they're likely to catch colds. Colds are a major trigger for asthma attacks. I know all about that. We start listening for wheezing at the first sign of a cough.

Also, asthma's becoming a huge and costly problem -- 22 million adults and 6.5 million children have it. The CDC says for kids it's increasing 4 percent a year. And asthma deaths among children have tripled in the last 30 years. Every year, asthma causes 14 million lost school days.

So it's a big problem. But be encouraged -- some kids DO grow out of it. I hope mine is one of them.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Here's some Friday "news you can use":

Symantec -- which makes the popular Norton virus protection for your computer -- commissioned a poll about kids outsmarting their parents online. Here are some highlights:

  • Kids spend more than twice as much time online as parents think (7 hours a week)
  • almost 1/4 do things online that "their parents wouldn't approve of"
  • 1/5 have dealt with inappropriate materials online
  • almost 1/5 have been "cyber-bullied" (receiving embarrassing pix, video or messages)
  • 7% have met an online stranger in person
  • almost half of parents use controls and spy on their kids emails and web sites
  • most parents say they know more about the Internet than their kids, but half of the kids say THEY know more

So keep your eyes wide open!

A couple of warnings from the FDA this week:

Also this week, a panel of scientific experts from the National Institutes of Health said the chemical "Bisphenol A" -- found in baby bottles, hard plastic sports bottles, water fountain containers and children's dental sealants -- likely does NOT cause prostate cancer and reproductive problems as critics claimed. But they are concerned about neural and behavioral effects. Here's more on what the scientists, critics, and plastics industry have to say.

Happy weekend!

Newsmom T

Thursday, August 09, 2007


There's a new survey out. The headline is: they're spending a lot more time than you think doing things you can't imagine.

I'm reading the details and hope to give you the highlights tomorrow.

In the meantime, go get your kids off the computer and eat dinner together. :)



Regarding the Minnesota bridge coverage, a faithful reader makes this valid comment:

"The media gripe I have is the rush to judgment and the sensationalist piece - it really does seem like the reporters on some stations have insulated themselves so much from feeling that they appear disappointed if the death count goes down."

It reminds me of a news producer I worked with who often read her Bible. Once, on a very slow news night, she looked up from the Bible to the newsroom scanner, and said: "We really need a lead [story] tonight. I hope we get a good house fire or [car] crash."

Then she went right back to reading -- as if that was the most normal thing in the world to say.

I'm not making excuses, but let me try to explain -- based on my experience covering breaking news -- how this happens:

When a big story happens, there's a HUGE adrenaline rush in the newsroom. In an instant people are running around, grabbing gear, running out the door, working the phones, making flight arrangements, dialing up satellites, sending out live trucks, desperately looking for information, and running to the studio to report it. Your sense of horror about the event quickly falls on the back burner in the massive effort to cover the story. And get it on the air. And get it first. And get it right. Because that's what creates loyal viewers... and ratings... which draw advertisers... who pay your check.

At first, you're so involved in the logistics of doing your job that there's little time to think about -- or feel -- anything else.

The sensationalism, I think, comes from an insatiable demand for 24-7 news. Whether that's truly fueled by viewers, or the media, is a valid question. But the fact is, when you're reporting on the scene of breaking news, the producer at the station (with the News Director breathing down his/her neck to beat the competition) comes to you live over and over wanting "new" information when, often, there is none. So any small tidbit becomes larger than life.

For instance, if you see a diver come out of the water shaking his head, reporters may say:
  • "Rescuers have "apparently" become discouraged, wondering if they'll ever find all the victims" - leading to speculation about whether the death toll is rising. So the producer calls in an expert to talk about the psychological effects.


  • "Rescuers "appear" frustrated, realizing this is a much bigger job than they can handle." That can open a whole debate about whether the county has enough divers, and whether the mayor's doing enough to get help in this crisis. So another reporter is assigned to do a package on how the city has cut funds for rescue services.

All this from a guy shaking his head. Maybe he was just wet and shaking off water.

It's not responsible and certainly not an excuse. I'm just trying to explain how these things happen.

Then, once you're out there, you see the network guys arrive and think: "I'd love to do THAT job one day!" So you focus on your on-air presence and delivery, hoping some News Director or agent will see you on a satellite feed and pull you out of Smalltown, Alabama (no offense - I lived there!) into a bigger market. That motivates you get the best elements for your story, so you can "stand out." That prompts you to rudely stick a microphone in the face of a grieving mother and ask: "What are you thinking as divers search for your missing son's body?" -- then get her answer on TV as soon as possible.

As someone who's had to do those interviews, let me say this: MOST reporters hate doing it. It is, however, part of our job to show what victims' families are going through. I've found two things to be true. First, there are respectful and disrespectful ways to approach families in sensitive situations like this. Second, some people WANT to be on TV when they're grieving. Some find it cathartic. Some want to get their loved one's story out there, so they're not remembered as just a statistic. For those people, we give ample opportunity. For those who want privacy, we should respect it.

Hope that gives you some insight.

News Mom T

Friday, August 03, 2007


Makes you think, huh? People trying to get home, maybe in a hurry. Working moms trying to figure out what to pull out of a hat for dinner tonight. Parents rushing to get their kids before day care closes. People on cell phones. Listening to music, trying to forget the day. Kids coming back from a summer camp trip.

Then suddenly, in a moment -- life changes. Or ends.

Actually, it makes me thankful. Watching this coverage has been horrifying. I realize every car I see in the water was a life - or several lives. People with hopes, dreams, problems, marriages, mortgages. Just like me.

In news we're often accused of being sensational, but in this case, I think the "could it happen here" story is completely warranted. Most people driving over a bridge today must be wondering if it's safe or about to give way.

Having covered many tragedies, I know the anguish some of those reporters feel. Often we mask our feelings to get through it and break down later. Sadly, there are a few who have become so immune that they never really grasp that this is a real tragedy affecting real people -- not just the best story ever on your resume tape.

But it's hard to watch the tearful families, day after day. I can't imagine what it's like to BE one. A few years ago we covered a string of missing and murdered children's cases. There's always a "sympathy wall" where friends and neighbors place flowers, notes, balloons as a makeshift memorial. It's always so sad.

After about the fifth one, I was doing a live shot and my producer asked if I wanted to go to the sympathy wall and shoot video. I just couldn't do it - not again. The grief had started to weigh in.

A few weeks later, a cute little girl about my daughter's age went missing from a neighborhood near mine. Authorities announced they found her body miles away as I was preparing for a live shot. I couldn't stop the tears. I guess that one just hit too close to home. I did get it together in time to do my job, but to this day I often think of her when children are reported missing.

A sign of weakness? Not fit for my job? Maybe. But I like to think it's a sign of being HUMAN -- a really important quality of a good reporter.