Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Private Lives; Public People

It was a week ago Wednesday that local TV news anchor Sarah Carlson had a very public incident involving an affliction she’s made no secret of: epilepsy. Toward the end of Channel 15’s morning news broadcast, the personable young anchor had a seizure on-air, and was taken to the hospital.

Sarah’s OK, and when I called WMTV they said she was doing fine and would soon be back on the air.

The station confirmed an outpouring of concern for her from the viewers, and a lot of folks took time to send her electronic get-well wishes. Although we may have never actually met the folks we hear giving news on local radio and TV stations, we often feel we know them. Anybody who’s ever been “in the biz” can tell you about how many times they’ve been approached by folks they don’t know.

I’ve known Sarah since her days as a radio news reporter and anchor for WIBA-AM, and have been a guest in her home. She is just as nice, friendly, and personable in “real life” as she appears to be on TV.

She’s been on the Channel 15 morning show for the past three years, and was diagnosed with epilepsy about a year ago. In her role as health reporter for the station, Carlson has reported and blogged about epilepsy. She’s on the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.

Carlson has done a lot, personally and professionally, to help raise awareness - and money - to help fight the disorder, which affects more than 50 thousand Wisconsinites.

I’ve often said the default position for TV is “excess” - with so many reporters and producers trying to wring every possible amount of emotion from any story. The old adages “if it bleeds, it leads” and “if it cries, it flies” are more true today than ever before.

That’s why I was surprised that our local daily newspaper - The Wisconsin State Journal - apparently asked for a copy of the video of Sarah having the on-air seizure. I didn’t think the paper would play that game, since there’s nothing educational about seeing a TV anchor have a grand mal seizure on the air. It would be pure voyeurism.

According to the article, Channel 15’s News Director, Chris Gegg, “declined to provide footage of the incident, citing privacy concerns“. If I’d have been in Gegg’s shoes, I would have flatly said “none of your business”. But then, the reporter would have whined about how it happened in public, and the people have a right to see it, or some such pabulum.

I hope Sarah is back on TV soon. I “scan the band” of local TV news outlets every morning, and always spend a few minutes watching Sarah, Charlie, and Christine.

If the local paper is looking for disturbing TV footage, perhaps they can link to the video of the expensive homes falling into Lake Delton during the flooding a couple summers ago. It’s a sure bet the TV stations will drag out that footage again this June.

Or they can hound Tiger Woods for the REAL story…..


  1. It was good to see Sarah back on TV this morning...Wednesday, December 2nd.

  2. Just saying: The fact that a reporter asks for information doesn't mean it will be used. I ask lots of questions and get lots of answers that never show up in what I write. I don't have any direct information, but I can't imagine the station was "hounded" for that information. Nor do I believe the reporter "whined" about not getting it. You suggested that, cleverly I might add, but you don't know, correct? What you read is the same thing I read: The station was asked and declined for privacy reasons. Sounds like a good and logical decision in this instance. If a school board meeting in secret uses the same excuse for not releasing information on why a teacher was fired, it would not be a good and logical decision. But somebody has to ask. I think you have a great hook to criticize if the footage was used, but not if a thorough news reporter simply asked for it.

  3. George ... If you get a lot of answers that you don't report, you should maybe put that blog of yours to work. God invented weblogs to eat the scraps, tidbits and leftovers that would naturally occur as he took the wrecking ball to journalism and threatened to consign its unrepentant practitioners to a nice warm spot in the 8th Circle (though some I know would qualify for the 6th).

    But I digress. How are things with Lake Delton these days? Has it been restored to Tommy Bartlett quality, or is it still a drainage ditch?

  4. You'll have to explain the Lake Delton and the blog snipes, neither of which, appropriately, make any sense.