By TIM HEARDEN
The struggling pork industry has gained an ally in its effort to persuade media organizations to stop referring to the H1N1 virus as swine flu.
The president of the National Newspaper Association, which represents 2,400 of the nation's daily and weekly community newspapers, has urged member publications to use the disease's clinical term in their coverage.
Cheryl Kaechele, publisher of the Allegan County News in Allegan, Mich., believes headlines referring to swine flu have caused confusion and unfairly harmed the pork industry.
"We just wanted to make sure there was accuracy in what they were reporting," Kaechele told the Capital Press.
The organization was approached by U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who was concerned that references to swine flu were hurting pork producers in his state and nationwide, Kaechele said.
"He asked us to ask our members to use the proper terminology," she said. "After reviewing that and verifying some of the information that he told us, we felt it was a proper thing to do."
Kaechele's statement provided the latest salvo for a media campaign that's been undertaken in recent weeks by government officials and the pork industry, which has lost about $1.1 billion since the flu outbreak in late April.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack chastised some media organizations in September for persistently referring to the virus as swine flu.
Many media organizations have begun using H1N1 exclusively, said Michael Wegner, the National Pork Board's vice president of communications. Among those still using swine flu is The Associated Press, despite a personal appeal made recently to its managing editor, Wegner said.
"It's just not an important enough issue to some of them, which is unfortunate," he said. "They fail to consider the pain they've inflicted on innocent pork producers who've had nothing to do with this."
Paul Colford, AP's director of media relations, said this month the wire service believes the term "swine flu" to be scientifically correct. He pointed to an April 30 Associated Press article that quoted four experts as saying the virus is genetically mostly porcine and its parents are pig viruses.
While initial laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in the virus were similar to viruses that occur in pigs, the National Newspaper Association contends that further study has shown that the virus is "very different" from what normally occurs in pigs.
Kaechele said her paper does not carry AP wire stories, nor do many of the small community papers that make up the group's membership. She said the papers take the approach that if a crisis "is affecting our readers, it's also affecting us."
For the most part, the people that editors and publishers of small newspapers encounter are "a lot of people just like me," she said.
"Those pork producers out there who may be being hurt by terminology are the people I'm going to meet walking into my office," she said. "We're not big towns and we're not big papers here."
Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake. E-mail: email@example.com .