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COVID-19 in Montana: How MTN News reports the numbers

Posted at 8:52 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 11:44:27-05

BOZEMAN — MTN News has been keeping track of the constantly changing COVID-19 numbers since March 2020.

It’s been challenging, with 56 counties reporting case numbers, deaths, recoveries, and now vaccination rates.

MTN’s Statewide Promotions Manager, James Rafferty is in charge of keeping track of all those numbers.

In 1995, Rafferty took a class at the University of Montana, “Numbers in News.”

“I didn’t think I’d be using (it) for coverage of a pandemic, but it turned out that way,” he said.

There are times when MTN’s numbers don’t match up with what the state is providing, Rafferty explained. MTN decided early on to report the latest news from the counties rather than once a day, like the state.

“As the pandemic grew, as the state did its best efforts to send numbers out, they’re dealing with 56 different counties and the counties have that data first,” he said. “So the state was behind on the real-time, on-the-ground numbers, especially counties like Gallatin and Missoula. They are very religious about sending their numbers out around 10 to 11 in the morning every day. So as a group we felt it was important to give an accurate reflection of what the numbers were in the state, knowing these counties were reporting before the state could process them.”

It’s a seven-day-a-week, morning till night, watching the numbers and it can get wildly confusing.

“We’re trying to bring in information as quickly as we can,” Rafferty said. “Especially evening newscasts. I try to do a quick survey around 4:445 pm just to see if there’s something we need for our 5:30 News. And then do the same in the evening before our 10 pm newscast.”

Rafferty’s wife is an executive producer for MTN News and the pair admit they rely on one another.

“There’s definitely some consultation,” Rafferty said. “We have our own little television station going here. It’s a team effort.”