Archive for June 12th, 2012

My family’s connection to and interest in ABC’s Robin Roberts continues and deepens.

Robin Roberts

When my niece, Mandy Poulter, and her husband, Matt, were wondering about the safety of their adopted daughter, Maya, at a Haitian orphanage following the 2010 earthquake, Roberts found Maya alive and safe and relayed the news to Mandy through Skype. A few days later, with some assistance from Roberts’ ABC colleagues, Mandy and Matt brought Maya home. (She’s doing great now, and Roberts has done some follow-up coverage.)

And any cancer survivor feels a connection of sorts to the people you meet or people in the public eye who battle cancer. I had surgery for colon cancer in 1999 and for basal cell skin cancer in 2005, so I was pulling for Roberts to beat breast cancer when she was diagnosed and treated in 2007 for breast cancer. But that’s a connection we share with some 12 million people.

Our latest connection is a much rarer health challenge. Roberts announced yesterday that she has Myelodysplastic Syndrome, diagnosed in 18,000 Americans a year. MDS is a group of blood disorders, so I don’t know that her disease is identical to the MDS my niece, Kat Devlin, was treated for last year, but in both cases, it was described as a possible precursor to leukemia. Beyond their age difference, Roberts’ MDS appears to have been caused by her cancer treatment. Doctors were studying a possible genetic tie in Kat’s case (her only sibling, Patrick, died of leukemia in 2009).

The treatment is similar. Roberts will receive a bone marrow transplant from her sister. Doctors could not find a suitable bone marrow donor for Kat, so she underwent a stem-cell transplant. Roberts’ treatment is not described to be as extreme and grueling as Kat’s or Patrick’s. They both spent months in hospitals, then months quarantined at home.

Kat is doing great now. She’s just finished her first year of high school, including track and field competition. I look forward to updates about Roberts’ successful recovery. We want her story to turn out as happily as Maya’s and Kat’s have.

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Update: Bill Keller has responded. Please read his response at the end of this post.

I don’t care that Bill Keller hates doesn’t like social media. What annoys me is that his lazy reporting is making him a bad example of old-school journalism.

I am of Keller’s generation, less than six years his junior. I understand about shoe-leather reporting. Like him, I’ve been doing it for decades. You do a lot of phone interviews, sure, but you also get off your ass and see things firsthand, so you can write with authority.

When I covered agriculture for the Kansas City Star, I walked wheat fields with Kansas farmers, trying to learn their business so I could report it accurately. When I covered religion for the Des Moines Register, I accompanied missionaries to Venezuela so I could understand firsthand their mission work, their Pentecostal fervor and the disaster for which they offered relief. As a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, when I told the story of twin girls being rescued from near-death, I walked the alley where they were found nearly frozen and I asked medical workers to re-create the scene in the emergency room, so I could tell the story accurately. I’ve gone to prisons, Indian reservations and devastated communities because it was important to understand the topics I covered.

Keller knows, I am sure, that you need to get firsthand knowledge to report authoritatively. He could top my stories of firsthand reporting many times over. I don’t think he won his Pulitzer Prize for coverage of turmoil in the Soviet Union by sitting in the Moscow Bureau of the New York Times. Oddly, you don’t even have to get off your ass to gain some firsthand knowledge of Facebook. But for some reason Keller thinks it’s good journalism to write about Facebook without bothering to use it or learn its culture.

He wrote a column about Facebook Sunday, but the most recent entry on his Facebook page is from last Oct. 13, when he changed his job in his profile from Times editor to columnist. In eight months, he hasn’t posted a link or a photo or status update. His other October update generated 51 comments, none of them from Keller. If he’s not even joining the Facebook conversation, it’s clear his understanding of Facebook is based on reading and interviewing other critics, rather than firsthand experience and exploration. But you know what he did Sunday? He wrote about Facebook. (more…)

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