Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

The State of Health Journalism in the U.S., March 2009 (old but still true)

“When I started, we had a stand-alone science/health section
and several people covering various aspects of the beat—health
policy/insurance, consumer health, and biosciences. Now
there’s only one person left with any medical journalism
training and that person is covering higher education.”

–15-year newspaper reporter laid off in 2008

 

“The pressure to produce from my editor blunts your ambition
because you know if you have a choice of a story you can turn
around in a week as opposed to one that may take 2- 3 times
as long, you have to juggle. You make choices based on the
stories you choose not to pursue. And that’s where readers
come out losers. That’s particularly true on health policy
and insurance. How ambitious am I going to be on this
story? Do I feel encouraged to do this kind of reporting
or” not? Those are dilemmas I face regularly.

–Major-market newspaper reporter

 

From the summary

This report provides a snapshot of the current state of health journalism in the U.S. today. It is based on a literature review of more than 100 published pieces of research on health journalism; on a survey of members of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), conducted by the Foundation and AHCJ; and on informal one-on-one interviews conducted by the author of this report with more than 50 journalists who work (or worked) for newspapers, radio and TV stations, magazines, and Web sites in small and large markets.

Excerpts from the report

The cuts in budget and personnel that so many newsrooms are facing contribute to several troubling trends in the content of health journalism:

  •  An emphasis on stories that can be produced quickly—often meaning more stories on medical studies, and sometimes sacrificing on quality.
  •  Fewer in-depth or complex stories, especially about health policy, and more “hyper-local” stories along with stories variously described as lifestyle, consumer, or news-you-can-use.
  • Reliance on stories produced and syndicated elsewhere, by non-traditional news sources.
  • The influence of commercial interests on health news, through video news releases (VNRs), sponsored news segments, free syndicated news segments from health providers, and the influence of PR firms steering the news.

    [Janice’s note…I am thinking of local hospitals who provide articles and interviews on the latest (expensive) procedures to the local media. Yes, hospitals are commercial interests. Seldom do these articles or interviews go into details about evidence, cost, or appropriateness.]

……….

There is an undeniably widespread trend in TV news—often in health news—to label
as news some content which has been provided by industry sources who covet publicity in news programming. This practice takes several forms:

  • Video news releases (VNRs) – produced and distributed by those promoting a product or cause. They are produced to look exactly like high-quality TV news packages. They are usually supplied on videotape or via satellite feed along with a script so that stations can put their own reporter’s face and voice on the story.
  • Sponsored health news – usually paid for by a local medical center and featuring professionals from that medical center. The fact that these segments are paid for, and that they include only certain perspectives, is usually not disclosed.
  • Free news segments from health providers – produced by medical centers, featuring only professionals from that organization.

“My biggest challenge? …Trying to figure who’s paying for what
pitch, who’s paying for what health campaign. There’s dollars
attached to everything.”

–Veteran reporter

 

What’s a reader to do? Start by reading articles thoughtfully. Look for clues for completeness, strength of evidence, conflicts of interest, and authorship.

A few good resources on how to analyze medical and health news stories.

 

January 2, 2013 - Posted by | Health Education (General Public) | , , ,

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