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A Letter From the Publisher: Nov. 3, 1986

3 minute read
Richard B. Thomas

It takes a special journalistic talent to make medical stories come alive. The subject matter is complex; writers and editors are confronted with jargon- filled journals and stacks of press releases touting “breakthroughs.” They must quickly differentiate between true medical advances and sophisticated hyperbole. Getting the story wrong can mean giving sick people false hopes or, even worse, groundless fears. Getting it right can help them discover new pathways to healthier lives.

Associate Editor Claudia Wallis, who wrote this week’s main cover story on viruses, is experienced at making such distinctions. Wallis has tackled a wide range of medical topics since joining TIME in 1979. Her previous cover stories on AIDS, cholesterol and salt have been among the magazine’s most popular issues in recent years. “I like the challenge of taking something obscure and making it understandable,” she says.

The subject of this week’s cover proved quite challenging. The target itself was elusive. Sciences Editor Leon Jaroff, who edited the story, describes the virus as a bizarre creature that “isn’t really life as we know it, but isn’t inanimate either. It comes in an endless number of sizes and shapes, each seemingly designed to inflict a different kind of woe on humans, animals or plants.” Wallis readily agrees. “Though we’ve all had the flu, few of us are familiar with the tiny creature that causes it.”

To shed light on this shadowy world, Chicago Correspondent J. Madeleine Nash traveled to Atlanta to talk to experts at the Centers for Disease Control about virus-related diseases. Reporter-Researcher Christine Gorman, who is based in New York City, attended a conference in Park City, Utah, to interview scientists about the possible links between viruses and cancer. In Washington, Correspondent Dick Thompson, who has spent much of his career at TIME covering science, was busy last week analyzing the Surgeon General’s report on one of the deadliest viruses, the one that causes AIDS.

For Wallis, this week’s project was a special milestone. Her first child, Nathaniel, was born in August. Ever since, Wallis, who is on maternity leave, has been in and out of the office, often with baby in tow, completing the story. How does motherhood compare with delving into the mysteries of the virus? “It’s harder,” says Wallis. “I didn’t think any job had longer hours than writing for TIME. But a new mother’s schedule is even worse.”

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