Thursday, October 29, 2009

TV Breast Exams Straddling Line Between Good Idea and Ratings Ploy

Why Do This When Exams Play A "Small Role" in Detecting Cancer

Of course, any weapon to fight breast cancer is both welcome and needed. And WJLA-TV in Washington is running with the notion in a big way.
As part of a four-part series on the disease, it will show on their newscasts today two women fully exposed as they do a breast self-examination. No drapes or tasteful concealments. This will be a frontal assault on a long-time taboo.
On the one hand, you can argue that providing women with as much information as they can to head off a killer disease while it could still be treatable is only a good thing. And this is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so you do have that tenuous synergy.
Then again, even the American Cancer Society is ambivalent about breast self-exams. The Washington Post notes the Society says "self-exams play only "a small role" in finding breast cancer. On its Web site, the society says 'it's okay not to do [a self examination] or not to do it on a fixed schedule.'"
Not only that, the society had no comment about the WJLA series. In other words, the bandwagon passed by and they conveniently forgot to jump.
Given that, you could view -- should you choose to view this -- more as a ratings ploy than a good idea. WJLA, though, gets to hide behind the cloak of performing a valuable public service, and tow the "If we could save just one life with these reports" line and not look opportunistic.
It's actually a rather ingenious maneuver. Whether it actually has any impact is another matter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight With Jay Gallagher

As Gannett's Albany Bureau Chief Battles Pancreatic Cancer, He Offers a Profile in Courage -- and Good Humor

I first met Jay Gallagher when I was a cub reporter for UPI in Albany, and he was the bureau chief for Gannett News Service. We both did time on the Legislative Correspondents Association softball team, and though I didn't know him well, he was always friendly and did a great job of keeping the follies that masqueraded as state government in perspective.
Later, we'd work a little more closely when I made a few trips a year to the capital as the state reporter for Gannett's Rockland Journal-News.
I haven't seen him in 20 years, but kept seeing his work, which wasalways solid, more-than-workmanlike.
I hadn't recalled seeing his byline recently, so when I had occasion to speak to a colleague in his office, I was floored by the news that Jay was diagnosed in June with pancreatic cancer. Apart from Osama bin Laden, it's the kind of news you never want to hear about anybody, let alone a former colleague, a good guy and great family man.
But as I have found out, Jay is someone disinclined to throw himself a pity party. Instead, he's devoted himself to beating considerable odds and, at least some of the time, blogging. It's good reading, and if it gets you to send a check to The Lustgarten Foundation, which is devoted to pancreatic cancer research, so much the better.
Like I did, you can give some money to the cause. And you can also send Jay some good thoughts and a spare prayer or three. Maybe those can help too.

Maybe We Should Give David Hunke the Nobel Prize in Economics

USA Today Publisher Has His Crystal Ball Working Overtime

So USA Today, that erstwhile companion outside your hotel-room door -- indeed, it was waiting for me this morning at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead, N.Y. -- will be chastened when the newest FAS-FAX numbers will show its circulation plunged 17 percent.
In other words, it's behaving like just about every other American newspaper, er, newspaper in the USA.
But USA Today publisher David Hunke, in the glass-is-half-full style that was once the hallmark of the paper, told his troops: fear not.

Before this year, our largest circulation declines came after the attacks of September 11th in 2001. And when the travel industry rebounded in the months that followed, USA TODAY did, too. We fully expect to see circulation increases again as the economy recovers. I'm encouraged by the fact that despite the tough travel economy, we have not lost a single hotel relationship during this recession.

I realize it's Hunke's job to say such things. Nonetheless, let's get real. Even if the economy rebounds, I suspect that hotels will take a closer look at just how many copies are being ordered. Instead of blithely dropping them in front of every occupied room, you will see a greater trend toward having them in the lobby, where people can grab them to pore over breakfast or on the way out the door.
Second, Hunke may be confusing crowded planes with increased business travel, his bread and butter. Planes are more crowded only because there are fewer of them. There are still plenty of rooms to be had at hotels.
Finally, Hunke has a more-aggressive rival for the hearts and minds of travelers: The Wall Street Journal. It makes a big deal of telling guests at Marriott properties they can choose the Journal as the paper they get in the morning.
In other words, while it's reasonable to expect USA Today can get back some of the 400,000 copies it no longer has to print. And it sure is swell that they can be found in 22,000 hotels. But there's a new paradigm out there, for the hotel business as well as the newspaper business. They both suffer from the same malady: there just aren't as many people who want or need their product as there used to be. And that's not likely to change anytime soon, if ever.