by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, July 13, 2006
Everyone loves a good story. Newspapers know this. Unfortunately, sometimes when a story doesn’t seem juicy enough in itself, papers take to “enhancing” said story—a devious act otherwise known as sensationalism.
Take, for instance, once again, our local morning daily, the Albuquerque Journal. Consider the breaking news about three months ago that an HPV vaccine, aka the cervical cancer vaccine, was developed and released (later to be approved by the FDA on June 8), and that much of the research for the vaccine was completed by UNM Prof. Cosette Wheeler and her team.
Add to this equation the Journal’s coverage of the tremendous news—which will likely be recorded in medical history books. What do you get? Since the news broke, the Journal has all but ignored the HPV vaccine—giving it two brief one-sixth of a page mentions, one on April 7, the day after the vaccine’s study was released, and one on June 9, the day after it was approved by the FDA. Both articles were superficial—barely skimming the surface of the history and implications for the vaccine. Both were obviously thought to be of little importance due to their placement in the paper—the April 7 article hid on the bottom of the “Metro & New Mexico” section and the one on June 9 was buried in the middle of the A section.
Yet, lo and behold, the last couple weeks have shown a change of heart from the Journal. On June 30, they ran a story on the HPV vaccine in the prime slot—the first story on the front page. A couple days later, on Sunday, July 2, they ran an editorial about the vaccine. Why the sudden change of heart? Look to the nature of the stories—both are about the “controversial” fact that it’s been recommended by Prof. Wheeler and others (and now by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) that girls the age of 11 or 12 years old receive the vaccine.
Why did the Journal choose to report on this “controversy” now? The topic has been up for discussion since the vaccine’s study was released more than three months ago. Additionally, no one has actually come out to say they’re against such an idea. (No controversy emerged in the advisory panel’s public meetings, and even the conservative Family Research Council, who many thought would oppose it, only opposes making it mandatory to give to children before they can enroll in school.) In other words, there is no controversy. But there is a lot of hype.