nights and weekends, Judy Packevicz shed the tedium of her job as
an accounts clerk for the city of Saratoga Springs, NY, and her
was a naturally gifted singer. Her soothing, angelic voice so notable
that she was a national award-winning soloist. She sang with the
Sweet Adelines and other quartets.
her mid-50s, her life was active and fulfilling.
her stamina waned. Sharp pain seared her midsection.
a battery of tests, doctors discovered Packevicz had metastatic
cancer of the liver. Only a transplant would save her life.
had ample medical benefits through the city plan and turned to her
HMO -- MVP Health Plan of Schenectady -- to fund the procedure.
they refused, citing expert medical opinions that the $350,000 operation
would do more harm than good.
Judy Packevicz was in a desperate fight for her life.
first television journalists to take note of her struggle were WRGB-TV
reporter Darcy Wells and videographer Bruce Forget, who began telling
Albany region viewers of the woman's plight.
there was a behind-the-scenes complexity to the story that would
have an immediate impact on the station.
Director Joe Coscia recognized that by reporting the story there
could be potential business ramifications affecting WRGB because
MVP Health Plan was a major advertiser spending hundreds of thousands
of dollars a year. Soon, representatives from the HMO were in his
office to complain.
reporting had been honest and fair. MVP had reviewed 109 transplant
requests and 108 were approved. Judy Packevicz was that 109th and
we wanted to know why she had been denied," Coscia said. "This was
a human drama unfolding."
a New York City law firm took on the woman's fight and filed suit
the story wove on, tension at the station mounted. WRGB sales reps
were getting word from MVP that there would be repercussions.
were doing the right thing," said WRGB General Manager Doreen Wade.
"This was about being denied surgery that might save your life.
Don 't people deserve that chance? Isn 't that what we 're paying for,
for HMOs to do everything possible to save our lives? That was really
MVP reviewed the grandmother 's case and approved the transplant.
However, she died on the operating table.
in 1998, MVP made good on its threat and retaliated. Thus far, WRGB
has lost $125,000 that MVP normally would have spent on advertising.
There is no sign of letup.
been devastating. But if we don 't have integrity, then we 're out
of business," Wade said. "Who would watch a newscast if they thought
the coverage was biased and we didn 't do stories because we were
afraid of losing money in the process?"
integrity dictates that deciding not to go with a story is more
important than being the first to publish. On Florida 's Treasure
Coast, such decisions take courage and wisdom because the competition
for readers and viewers is intense. In Fort Pierce, The Tribune
is surrounded by Scripps Howard newspapers in Vero Beach
and Stuart, and a television station in West Palm Beach.
have to be on top of our game every day; you can 't fall down ever
or you get beat," said Tribune Editor Larry Croom.
also means that time is not a luxury; decisions about stories have
to be made quickly. However, at The Tribune, getting it right
means more than printing it first.
stories run by The Tribune 's competition -- a series on
cancer in children and allegations about a school board candidate
-- put The Tribune 's integrity to the test.
Tribune came under fire by readers after its competition ran
a series of stories claiming there was an unexplained increased
cancer rate in children in Port St. Lucie.
was a Love Canal mentality among residents," explained Managing
Editor Anthony Westbury. "After their series ran, there was panic
and we saw it spill over to real estate where property values plummeted."
Tribune took on the story.
tack was to look at the statistics and do our homework," Westbury
Tribune reported the reality was that the area 's cancer rate
among children was no higher than any other comparable area. And
state tests of water, soil, air and other possible causes came up
negative. There was no smoking gun.
Tribune 's series took first place in the Florida Society of
Newspaper Editors Awards. The competition placed second.
other incident involved a school board candidate -- a former school
principal who was dogged by rumors of past sexual misconduct and
employees were putting immense pressure on us to print these allegations,"
said Croom. "We looked at it and found they were without any foundation.
Our decision making is based on the fact that we affect people 's
lives every day. About 70,000 people read our paper and we have
to print a newspaper with integrity."