Reporters in Toronto Not Worried About SARS

By: Joe Strupp

Despite the World Health Organization’s warning for travelers to avoid Toronto due to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), U.S. newspaper editors last week expressed few fears about covering the outbreak up close. But, for whatever reason, they are not exactly rushing correspondents to the stricken city, despite its proximity to the United States (especially in comparison to, say, China). Among the few American reporters arriving in the city last week were writers covering Major League Baseball teams.

Those on assignment in Toronto or attached to bureaus there say they are following only basic health-protection guidelines — a far cry from their brethren in Asia, where surgical masks, home-based reporting, and extensive cleansing of offices is the norm.

The Wall Street Journal, which has two reporters regularly based in Toronto, has put both scribes on the SARS beat nearly full-time, according to John Moritsugu, managing editor of Dow Jones Newswires Canada. But he said neither was taking extreme safety precautions and no more staffers were expected. “It’s business as usual,” he said.

“It is a one-person story,” said Chicago Tribune Foreign Editor Colin McMahon. “We are covering it mostly out of Beijing.” The paper did send a writer to Toronto last week, but saw no need for additional staffers there. The Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle have reporters based in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, who are reporting the story, editors said. Neither saw a need for more staffers there. “We don’t want to overreact,” said Globe Foreign Editor James Smith.

For its part, Newsday in Melville, N.Y., is pulling Toronto coverage from the wires.

Only one journalist covering the Toronto SARS story who spoke with E&P admitted taking extra precautions. Colin Nickerson, the Globe‘s Montreal-based reporter, said he had been traveling regularly to Toronto, but avoiding hospitals. He added he had taken to using alcohol wipes on his hands after shaking hands or touching public areas.

Writers who cover the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers have not altered plans for attending games in Toronto against the Blue Jays, according to editors. Holly Lawton, deputy sports editor at The Kansas City (Mo.) Star, sent Royals beat writer Bob Dutton to cover the Royals-Blue Jays games last weekend. She said she was “concerned” about risks, but decided they were “pretty slim.” Dutton, she said Thursday, “is going to stick close to the hotel and be careful, but I doubt he will cover the game in a mask.”

At the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, Cody Bailey, senior deputy sports editor, said sportswriter Carlos Mendez would be in Toronto for the Rangers-Blue Jays games this week, without changing his routine. “He has been told to stay out of public areas and use good hygiene, but that is it,” Bailey said. “We are journalists, so if the team is there, we go.”

Both sports editors gave their baseball scribes the option of staying home, but both declined.

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