For Daniel DeNoon, a routine Friday afternoon CDC press teleconference resulted in a national, award-winning story, yet most reporters didn’t pick up on it. The call took place on the 25th anniversary of the CDC’s first report on the mysterious illness that would turn out to be AIDS. During the question-and-answer period, the new head of CDC AIDS center, Dr. Kevin Fenton, veered from the script and began talking about making HIV testing routine in clinical settings. DeNoon, a senior medical writer for WebMD (www.webmd.com), recalled that “most reporters present were unaware of what a radical change that represented, or maybe, as everyone was near deadline, they had a preconceived idea of what their story was going to be.”
Regardless of the reason, no one else went to press with it, giving WebMD a scoop, breaking the news that the CDC was to recommend routine HIV testing on everyone age 13 to 64 who visits a doctor. The teleconference had begun at 1 p.m.; by 4 p.m., the story, which was reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D., was filed.
Five hundred thousand Americans are among the 25 million dead from AIDS. A million more Americans now carry the virus — and nearly 16,000 died in 2004. If you think it’s easy to live with the AIDS virus, if you think AIDS drugs are a cure, think again.
WebMD’s Executive Editor/Editorial Director Sean Swint said, “Dan was able to weave the history of the epidemic into the news about universal testing, so he broke news and placed it in perspective at the same time. And in between every line, Dan’s knowledge about the topic informed the story, and turned what could have been a run-of-the-mill press conference into breaking news and compelling journalism.”
“Deadline writing,” DeNoon said, “has, for me, always been what journalism is all about.”