March 6, 2020

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NBC goes deep on the coronavirus

There is confusion, misinformation and serious concern, bordering on panic.

It’s the story of the coronavirus.

It’s the kind of story that tests any news organization because it is complicated, worldwide and constantly evolving. While no organization wants to get any story wrong, when it comes to life-and-death matters such as this one, news organizations have no room for error.

Among those leading the way on this story is NBC News’ Richard Engel, who has been filing regular reports for “NBC Nightly News.” Engel’s “On Assignment with Richard Engel” will report exclusively on the coronavirus Sunday night at 10 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC — a special nearly three weeks in the making that features several editing teams to keep up with very latest.

So, I asked Engel himself. What is it that he wants people to know through his reporting?

“While this is an evolving story, people need to know that there are some established facts,” Engel told me in an email. “They need to know this is not an ‘end of day’ pandemic. The vast majority of people who get infected will be fine, especially if they are young and healthy. The real risk, and here it is significant, is to the elderly with pre-existing medical conditions. This is a virus we need to take seriously, but panic never helps and could make the situation much worse.”

Engel has been on the front lines of this story from the start, traveling to Hong Kong and Singapore. Almost immediately, he realized how significant this virus was.

“I learned how quickly a viral outbreak can disrupt and overwhelm a medical system,” Engel said. “Both Hong Kong and Singapore are rich cities with outstanding medical care and world-class hospitals, and they were struggling.”

Engel said quarantines were difficult to maintain. Doctors broke into two teams: a “dirty team” to work with virus patients and a “clean team” to treat everybody else. He said it was a logistical nightmare that pushed hospitals to their limits.

“Where do the ‘dirty teams’ sleep?” Engel said. “Do you have enough protective equipment for them? After their shifts, the ‘dirty team’ doctors need to be quarantined themselves before they can work on non-infected patients again. With so many doctors and nurses in quarantine, you suddenly have a shortage of staff. I realized how hard it is in practical terms to treat a contagious virus, even for the world’s most advanced, best-funded healthcare systems.”

It’s a virus that is difficult to treat and hard for the media to cover. But, when done correctly, it is journalism that matters.

More special coverage

“CBS This Morning” hosts, from left to right, Anthony Mason, Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil. (CBS News)

“CBS This Morning” will dedicate an entire hour this morning to covering the coronavirus. “Coronavirus: The Race to Respond” will air from 8 to 9 a.m. Eastern. It will try to cover everything from what is known, to what happens next, to the economic and cultural impact on the outbreak in America and around the world.

In a statement, “CBS This Morning” executive producer Diana Miller said, “There are so many questions about the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for our families and communities. In addition to covering the outbreak each day with our expert medical team, dedicating an hour of ‘CBS This Morning’ is important to give our viewers the latest on treatment and tracking, and also provide answers from medical experts to address the concerns.”

An ESPN dream team

NBC’s Al Michaels. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand had an intriguing scoop Thursday: ESPN is trying to make a deal to acquire football play-by-play announcer Al Michaels from NBC and then pair him with retired quarterback Peyton Manning to form an all-star broadcasting crew for “Monday Night Football.”

The plan was hatched after ESPN missed out on landing analyst Tony Romo, who recently re-signed with CBS for a whopping $180 million over 10 years. ESPN had no comment, but it feels like a longshot unless ESPN gives Michaels a blank check. Michaels already has the best play-by-play announcing gig in the NFL calling NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which typically is not only the most-watched football game each week, but the most-watched program on all of television.

Technically, ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast team of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland is still intact, but ESPN is considering a change. I’m not a fan of Tessitore and his over-the-top calls, but McFarland shows talent and potential. ESPN still might be looking to make a splash.

For decades, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, “Monday Night Football” was the premier NFL broadcast. That has changed in recent times. The “MNF” match-ups have gotten worse, while “Sunday Night Football” has gotten the more attractive games. ESPN is hoping to pump life back into “Monday Night Football” and might see Michaels and Manning as the best way to do that.

Time for women

Each year, Time magazine names a person of the year. For the first 72 years, however, it was “Man of the Year.” Now, Time is going back in time with a new project called “100 Women of the Year.” It has recreated covers to recognize the most influential woman every year from 1920 through 2019. (The online version is very well designed.)

The first, in 1920, was “The Suffragists.”

It’s fascinating to scroll through the list and attach a name to a particular year. For example, Virginia Woolf was 1929, Lucille Ball was 1951, Aretha Franklin was 1968. Gloria Steinem was 1970. And so on.

An important list and a good read.

Check it out

Unlike anything it has ever done before, CBS’s “48 Hours” will give viewers a rare look inside a murder case. What makes it rare is that virtually everything — from the initial moments of the investigation through the verdict — is captured on camera. CBS says it’s the most extensive police body camera footage ever broadcast.

“The Case Against Sandra Garner” looks at the murder of Sandra Garner’s husband, Jon Garner. Sandra claimed Jon was shot by a masked intruder, but she was ultimately arrested for his murder.

Media tidbits

  • To recognize International Women’s Day, NBC Sports will use an all-female crew to broadcast and produce its coverage of Sunday’s NHL game between the Blues and Blackhawks. Kate Scott will handle the play-by-play with U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield and A.J. Mleczko as analysts. The studio coverage will feature host Kathryn Tappen and three-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jen Botterill. The game will be produced by Rene Hatlelid and directed by Lisa Seltzer.
  • CBS News announced Thursday that Seth Doane, a Peabody Award-winning CBS News reporter, will be a correspondent for the new “60 in 6” show. Doane also will continue to contribute to “CBS Sunday Morning.” The “60 in 6” show, which will tell “60 Minutes”-type stories in six minutes, is getting close to its launch. The show debuts April 6 on Quibi, CBS’s new mobile-device streaming service.

Hot type

Elizabeth Warren outside her home after she dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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