Joining the Battle

Everyone needs a crusade, something they fight valiantly for, or against.

For some people it's the fight against the Confederate flag. For others it's the battle to keep Touched by an Angel on the air.

For us, it's been journalism contests. We have long railed thunderously against the seemingly unquenchable desire for journalists to reward themselves, and to write stories telling readers all about the latest award some staffer has won from some group like the National Trailer Home Association for a three-part series titled "Tornadoes and Trailer Homes: Not As Bad As You Think."

For years our efforts have been in vain: One need look no further than the April 13 issue of our very own Houston Press, which included a story that went on at dismaying length about how we had racked up a bunch of awards at The Press Club of Houston's annual dinner.

Frankly we just about packed it in when we saw it. Our cause, the eradication of self-congratulatory awards stories, was apparently a lost one.

But we have been given newfound hope. The Houston Chronicle, a paper that heretofore succeeded in printing the names of more obscure journalism awards than anyone thought possible, has apparently signed on to our crusade.

In the 17 years that The Press Club of Houston has been giving out awards, the Chron has never failed to write a story about the results -- hell, it's written 21-inch stories about the results. But there has been not a peep about this year's contest.

TV critic Mike McDaniel dutifully listed the awards handed out to the local television news operations, but so far there has been no mention of the results in the print media.

Such modesty is unexpected, but we won't look a gift horse in the mouth. Welcome aboard, Chronicle. You can man the barricade on the right.

By the way, we have received a second opinion about just what was the most obnoxiously patronizing remark made by Chronicle executive Tony Pederson when he met April 4 with activists upset with the paper's chronic lack of coverage of local Hispanic issues (see "La Revolución Will Not Be Covered," News Hostage, April 13).

As we reported, Pederson failed to charm the group by asking whether they were subscribers. Now another participant, who says Pederson sported a "smirk like George Bush" throughout the meeting, says he was even more taken aback by another question.

The group, all of them Houston residents, was there to talk about the lack of coverage of Hispanic neighborhoods and local groups, trends and issues.

So it's safe to say they didn't expect Pederson to react by asking what he asked.

"But what," the senior vice president asked the group, "do you think about our coverage of Mexico?"

Prefab News

There's nothing the media likes more than a good anniversary story. One year after a major event like a plane crash or plant explosion or "senseless killing spree," and they are ready, man. (Sensible killing sprees are ignored.)

So it was no surprise that the local TV stations rolled out big packages to mark the first anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

The media like these stories because they're easy to do; you can schedule things well in advance and hash out what you're going to do. Those same reasons work to the benefit of the government entity or private company that's being covered, though; they get a better chance to spin the news.

We're sure TWA's PR people had a battle plan put together to shape coverage of the first anniversary of the Flight 800 disaster, for instance. And it looks like Houston Independent School District was taking no chances with Columbine, either.

HISD Superintendent Rod Paige showed up on all the local stations extolling the security measures in place at Houston schools. At least two stations went out to Milby High School for stand-ups and talks with students and shots of the tough principal who lays down the law.

We saw reports from two different stations. They each had their own students, but all the kids happily said they felt all safe and secure in their HISD high school.

And the kids didn't look at all like they had been gathered up by officials and presented to the news crews as "typical students." We think.

Pump It Up

There it was, splashed across the front page of the April 13 Chronicle: "Tiny Pump Makes Medical History."

"Doctors at the Texas Heart Institute announced Wednesday they have implanted a miniature pump inside the heart of a patient, the first device of its kind to be used on a human in the United States," medical writer Leigh Hopper wrote of what she called a "historic operation" to install a device named after heart pioneer Robert Jarvik.

Then there was this, in the April 19 Texas Journal, a weekly regional insert into The Wall Street Journal: The mini-pump operation at the institute "was described in media reports as the first of its kind in the U.S.," the story said. "However, according to an article by Dr. Jarvik and several institute doctors in the March-April edition of [an incredibly long-titled medical journal], the device was first tried on a patient in Houston in December. That patient died after 16 days."

"I wish I had some snappy comeback for you, but Š I got it wrong," Hopper said by e-mail. Institute spokeswoman Maureen Kovacik says "a lot of [media] people leapt to the conclusion" that the April operation was a first. "I get the impression a lot of it was assumed."

The institute put out a press release only after a pre-operation story by The Sunday Times of London came out, based on interviews with British researchers involved in the project.

"There was a lot of misinformation in that story," she says.

Apparently some of it made its way across the Atlantic.

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