Journalistic Triage

In emergency medical situations, when the number of patients needing treatment exceeds the technical capacity to deliver said treatment, attending physicians have to assign “degrees of urgency” to each patient so they can effectively manage the demand and supply of care.

To assign degrees of urgency and then to tend to the most urgent first is known as “triage.”

We have patients who need immediate, lifesaving intervention; others are serious but can wait; those who need little to no care and, finally, those who are so severely ill or injured their survival is unlikely.


For those of you old enough to remember the movie and subsequent TV series, MASH, (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital), set during the Korean War, you witnessed Hollywood’s version of wartime triage.  It was close enough to provide a suitable demonstration.


In medicine, triage optimizes the chances of saving the most lives; in effect, it’s the closest mortals come to “playing God”.


As we struggle through our war with COVID-19, you can rest assured that every ER across this country that’s overwhelmed with patients, is exercising triage protocols.


Sheltering at home has given me the opportunity to read and watch 7/24 coverage of COVID-19.  I’ve consumed enough to qualify, if not certify, me to offer print and broadcast editors some advice: “Learn from the healthcare practice of triage and apply similar ‘degrees of importance’ to the human interest stories you choose to produce.”


In light of all the harm this viral contagion has wrought throughout the world, journalists should triage their stories based on new metrics associated with the effects of physical and mental suffering on both patients and first responders, strength of will, levels of humanity in and outside hospital settings, innovative expressions of health care and human kindness, the full spectrum of needed science for direct and prophylactic care plus vaccines, the deleterious effects of partisan politics on present and future delivery of care, and…

You get the picture.


Unfortunately, too many in the media are swayed by or attracted to “puff” pieces that demean the seriousness of the moment.

For example, they feature the effect school closings have on seniors whose graduation ceremonies have been canceled.

Boo hoo.

Why not cover the dire effects of 20% unemployment on job prospects for graduating seniors, focusing on business verticals that are hiring vis-a-vis those that are not.

Continuous attention should be devoted to the growing “Gig” economy and how to leverage its opportunities during the time of COVID.

I’ve suffered stories about young lovers who’ve been forced to comply with statewide closings of church sanctuaries and, consequently, forgo their long planned wedding ceremony.

Boo hoo.

Why not focus on the new realities facing couples during the time of COVID?; the economics associated with a home-centric lifestyle?; designing and equipping home-centric living spaces?; searching for gig opportunities and the like?

Stories have highlighted athletes whose sports’ season has been cut short or cancelled altogether.

Boo hoo.

Why not focus on the industry of sports, all the revenue streams that have dried up — the hospitality segment (hotels, restaurants, retail), parking, concessions, ushers, ticket offices, ticket and program printing, etc.


As you dive deeper into the real stories beneath the “puff” surface, make educated predictions on where we could be headed.  Include parts of our current normal that will die off, other parts that will be reshaped, those that will be damaged but will survive in the long run.  Also imagine the new normal and what it will look like.


Triage your subject matter by rethinking your values. Stories are like people.  Some have more meaning and purpose than others.


Help guide us down a path to a new and more promising tomorrow.


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