The best TV reporters bring us more than the news — they bring us perspective, draw us into their stories, make us part of what they report on, be it major news or human interest.
Last week, ABC senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto reported from Tehran. His reports came from the streets, not some safe and secluded hotel room. When government forces rescinded permits for his film crew, he took his cell phone and transmitted that way — still from the streets.
Then Ahmadinejad’s people hijacked his Twitter account to send out their own version of events under his name, as reported by ABC News.
None of the repressive Iranian regime’s efforts to block news of the thousands protesting in the streets throughout Iran was successful. Sciutto brought the full story to the world — including to Iranians, whose news was restricted to pro-Ahmadinejad reports. Sciutto’s reporting is what TV news is supposed to be about.
The Iranian protests were the biggest story in the world last week. But in Philadelphia, another reporter made news in a more personal way with his untimely passing.
Gary Papa, longtime sports director at 6 ABC’s “Action News,” where he had been since 1981, died June 19 after a long and public battle with prostate cancer. He was 54.
What put his death on the front page of the Daily News and made it a lead story on all the competing networks — not just Channel 6 — was that Papa was a great guy. He was genuine, warm, enthusiastic, caring and driven to help others. From the outset, Papa had used his own battle with cancer to try to save the lives of other men — straight, gay, bisexual, young and old.
Afer Papa’s 2003 diagnosis, he shared it with his viewers in April 2004. He remained on the air throughout his chemotherapy, which was obviously grueling. He lost his trademark hair. He got puffy from treatments, then gaunt. Viewers followed his progress as his hair grew back and his body grew stronger.
But the cancer returned and, a few months ago, Papa, looking shockingly ill, restricted his airtime to the 6 p.m. slot. It was a valiant effort, but anyone watching could see he would not win the battle this time around.
Until just months before his death, Papa also continued to give talks throughout the Delaware Valley about prostate cancer, which afflicts one in six men. He was deeply concerned that men become vigilant and pro-active with their health. Papa’s own diagnosis had stunned him. He talked openly on air and off about how men are too casual with their health, that they put off going to the doctor and fear the annual digital prostate exam and the simple PSA blood test that detects the disease early. Papa’s own prostate cancer metastasized, but the vast majority of prostate cancer, when found early, does not.
Most gay and bisexual men only put HIV/AIDS on their personal health radar. If they get tested for that, or are vigilant about practicing safe sex, they think no other health crisis will affect them. But one in six means millions of men afflicted with prostate cancer, 10 percent of whom will be queer.
No Philadelphian was untouched by Gary Papa’s story or his passing. He was a great guy and a great reporter, and his loss will resonate for a long time. There was no other reporter in Philadelphia who knew sports like Papa did. None.
Whether or not you were one of the men touched by Papa’s reports or his personal story, pay him a tribute: Get a prostate exam.