Potty Snakes and Policy Debates
Poisonous snakes in the toilet. Are you at risk? It was a slow day for news in Nashville. Today in our Media and Medicine elective, we took a field trip to a local news station and got to see the filming of, among other things, a follow up story to yesterday’s stunning toilet bowl serpent expose (nicknamed the “Potty Snake Story” at the station). What did all of this have to do with medicine you might ask. On Wednesdays, Channel 2 does their weekly health segment (today it concerned West Nile vaccines and herpes). After mentally commending the station for their contribution to West Nile hysteria, I proceeded to fix my attention on the woman crazily gesturing at a green wall. Turns out this was none other than Lisa Patton, storm tracker extraordinaire. Little inside weatherman tip: Penn State has a top notch meteorology program.
Although nothing was as cool as the green screen, we had a chance later to talk with a representative from the station’s parent company. It seems that the people with the money no longer want any “disease of the week” stories and are not planning on hiring dedicated medical reporters at any of their stations. “People go to cable or the internet for health news, it’s not worth our time.” He explained that there was not only a shift away from health news but also from any news at all. With the retirement of all three major anchors within the next five years, he predicted that news would be relegated to 24 hour cable channels in the near future.
When I asked how we as physicians could make our voices heard at a cable level, he explained that each news channel has its own criteria for story selection. The way he broke it down was you have to pitch to their focus. For example, Fox is all about issues so they would go for a policy debate story while CNN is more about scientific breakthroughs like a new vaccine trial. Overall it was an interesting experience but I can’t really write any more, I think I hear a water moccasin swimming in my toilet.