The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

New Wakefield ruling permeating local news

with 3 comments

Courtesy CBS

WCCO’s take on Brian Deer’s suggestion of doctored information in Andrew Wakefield’s study that concluded vaccines were a cause of autism illustrates the magnitude of the controversy. Whenever you see a local news source provide their own take on a national story, that generally means the subject is either well-known to the audience or there’s a serious need to inform the public about a potential mass impact.

For WCCO, CBS’ Twin Cities affiliate, they used the recent development to explore how Wakefield’s study impacted immunizations. WCCO talked with parents of twins who wanted to be sure they made the right choice when it came to vaccinating their kids. On a broad scope, they would certainly appear to be reporting “yesterday’s news” as they tell their viewers how Wakefield’s study caused parents to put more thought into all vaccines, not just the MMR shot in Wakefield’s research. For followers of autism in the news, this story doesn’t reveal much that isn’t already known: parents pausing to consider the “what if” questions out of concern for their children, and as I mentioned in my first post on the new development with Wakefield’s study, fear is a powerful catalyst in decision-making. Logic isn’t even enough to defeat the presence of fear.¬†Ultimately, the parents WCCO interviewed decided to vaccinate their kids and no side-effects occurred, as they rarely do when immunizations are administered.

I’ve discussed why local news sometimes gives off a lackadaisical appearance with some of their topics of interest before, and some of those reasons return in WCCO’s latest autism story. Primarily, the news producers don’t believe their audience is fully aware of autism yet, as they re-iterate what autism does to its inhabitants and that no one knows what causes the disability. Given how short a window most video packages are (news code for a story generally 60 seconds or more covered by a reporter), there’s little time to explain the finer, more complex questions currently surrounding autism.

What we can learn from this story is how much attention local news producers are giving for, in this case, an international story. Few would question WCCO if they decided not to pursue a local angle to Deer’s discovery, since local TV news can’t focus on one topic for too long without risking losing audience interest. However, Wakefield’s study created huge implications, too big for most reporters to ignore. WCCO is simply doing what most of us affected by autism or worry about the disability already are, keeping an eye peeled for new leads, stories, developments and breakthroughs.

3 Responses

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  1. Thank you for clarifying what video packages are.

    There is a British blog which covers autism video packages from Rob Mann, who is a Film Studies student. I’m getting a lot of education from those!

    The Wonderful World of Autism

    “Ultimately, the parents WCCO interviewed decided to vaccinate their kids and no side-effects occurred, as they rarely do when immunizations are administered.”

    The story would probably serve to be reassuring and it would reassert common sense in the face of conflicting logic and of fear.

    Had a great time reading about the history of news yesterday.

    I learnt that news bulletins would run 5-15 minutes of story and only 2 minutes [maximum] of pictures.

    This format might be the case in local or in rural news.

    I know that the Twin Cities are a highly urbanised area.

    I also think the story appeals on “widely known” and “serious issue” criteria, which you mentioned in the first or second paragraph.

    The “yesterday’s news” angle? Well, the Wakefield story did take a long time to get off the blocks. About four years from 1998 to 2002 when it was widely known. The “serious effects” would have come up much sooner or much later.

    Adelaide Dupont

    January 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    • I mention yesterday’s news because of the spike in stories related to Deer’s investigation while more stories reporting evidence against Wakefield’s study have circulated for some time now. However, such news wouldn’t appear as old if a viewer didn’t read national feeds as I do. I’m not saying WCCO is lazy, only that they were not first in this particular instance.


      January 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      • Good advice to read national feeds!

        The Deer investigation took a long time for people to process, that is true.

        If I were looking for “first” I would probably have gone to New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas (because, again, of the local element: Wakefield is strongly connected with Thoughtful House).

        Adelaide Dupont

        January 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm

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