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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Who’s Following This Story, Anyway?


At mid-day, a crazy thing happened: another food-related health crisis hit the news.
This one involved an incredibly popular dessert company headquartered in Ohio. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a cult favorite featuring some of the most unusual flavors you’ve ever heard of (how does “Queen City Cayenne” grab you?), was about to go into a company-wide shut-down after traces of listeria were found during an inspection.
Say it ain't so, Jeni!
We weren’t sure how to take this news. On one hand, it could potentially drive the botulism story further down the priority list of the media outlets. There are, after all, only so many reporters to go around. Conversely, the fact that this story involved similar subject matter could actually add more fuel to the fire.
You probably guessed what happened (sigh). Local media moved the botulism story higher in their news queue again, linking the common topic of foodborne illness.
While the Lead PIO was otherwise engaged, I shifted my attention to media monitoring. In addition to television, newspaper, and radio, the story was being published via web-only, wire, and e-mag. Outside of Ohio, it had traction in the New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN, NBC and ABC national news, Reuters, and Tom’s own Tampa Tribune. We also learned of the existence of publications called “Food Poisoning Bulletin” and “Outbreak News Today”, both which picked the story off the wire. All told, we Google-searched ten pages deep and found coverage by 66 outlets. That’s a lot of busy assignment desks.

Who knew this even existed?
I put together a Word doc table listing all the outlets following the incident, and emailed it to the lead PIO. She forwarded it to key hospital staff to show them the reach (and to subliminally stress the importance of a professional public information staff during these types of crises).
We also wanted to see what “spin” was being placed on the local coverage of the story, since the media was a couple of days in and was looking for creative ideas. In addition to the CDC antitoxin bureaucracy angle mentioned in Part 2, they continued their fascination with the numbers game by including the number of patients who had received the antitoxin and those who were under “watch”; published quotes from a myriad of infectious disease docs; did church member interviews; ran botulism signs, symptoms, and stats; and interviewed an area man who contracted botulism three years ago and was still recovering.

That's a long way to go for news about the botulism outbreak
By early evening, some of the stress had abated, as the botulism story was usurped by stories on state background check flaws, a shooting, an Ohio State basketball player leaving school early for the NBA, the Jeni’s story, Nick Faldo’s pre-Memorial Tournament visit to central Ohio, and coverage involving Pete Rose.
The day ended for us after most people’s dinnertime. In addition to the main topic of this blog-post, we had dealt with the news of additional potluck attendees who began feeling ill and were transported to the hospital, a woman who came to the emergency department claiming to have symptoms of botulism but who eventually was arrested for faking the illness (who does that?), and the pastor asking for help in keeping the media away from his church and the private homes of his congregation.

Not THOSE quiet professionals...
And so ended another routine day in the life of the “quiet professionals”. (Whoops! I think that one’s already been taken.)
Dan Kochensparger
Public Information Officer
Upper Arlington, Ohio Fire Department
www.linkedin.com/pub/dan-kochensparger/76/a93/883

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