The Dallas stations are working tirelessly to cover the ultimate moving target in news—the Ebola crisis in DMA No. 5. As the primary informers for scores of residents, the TV newsrooms are faced with tough decisions about educating the public while avoiding stoking hysteria.
“It’s a national story, but it’s our hospital and our town,” says Carolyn Mungo, executive news director at WFAA. “We’ve got a community on edge, and we’re in a position to truly provide a public service.”
The news stations, including CBS-owned KTVT, Fox-owned KDFW, NBC’s KXAS and Univision’s KUVN, have been breaking in regularly for press conferences and updates since Eric Duncan was diagnosed in Dallas September 30. WFAA held a town hall at a theater October 15, hosted by anchor John McCaa and featuring Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News answering questions.
WFAA also hosted live web chats with doctors addressing users’ many questions. The first such forum fielded over 4,000 questions from concerned residents, says Mungo. WFAA has a handy resource for a crisis such as this in veteran medical reporter Janet St. James.
Mungo says the straightforward approach works best for difficult, high-interest stories such as the current one. “Shoot straight and be thorough,” she says. “Explain, explain, explain.”
Around the market, KDFW reports on the mysterious “Clipboard Guy,” as it is calling him, who boarded a flight from Dallas to Atlanta with an Ebola victim, and wore no protective gear.
Schools south of Waco have locked their doors to students on October 16 because some had been on a flight with Ebola victim Amber Vinson, says CBS’s local TV and radio joint site.
With Vinson transported to a hospital at Emory University, Ebola becomes an Atlanta station story too. Here’s WSB’s take on Vinson’s arrival.
The Dallas stations will stay on the story, while getting reinforcement from other stations in their groups. NBC's owned group, for one, has sent extra resources to Dallas.
“It takes a strong effort to thoroughly and calmly serve the viewers on a story like this around the clock,” says Susan Tully, KXAS VP of news, via email.
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.