Health News Review

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication holds its annual conference in Washington, DC, next week, and our work is featured in one of the papers accepted for discussion:

How Well Do U.S. Journalists Cover Health Treatments, Tests, Products and Procedures? • Kim Walsh-Childers, University of Florida; Jennifer Braddock, University of Florida; Cristina Rabaza, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications; Gary Schwitzer, HealthNewsReview.org • This study examined 518 HealthNewsReview.org assessments of health stories from 2011-early 2013. The reviewers assessed stories as satisfactory on all relevant criteria slightly less than 60% of the time. The three criteria least likely to be met were quantifying potential harms an individual might experience as a result of a medical intervention, discussing how much that intervention would likely cost, and quantifying the benefits a patient could expect from the intervention or change. Fewer than 50% of the reviewed stories were deemed satisfactory on these three criteria and two more: discussing the quality of the evidence provided in support of the intervention and discussing alternatives to the intervention. Our comparison of the most recent reviews with analysis of the first 500 reviews showed that journalists’ rate of success in providing satisfactory information had improved on eight of the 10 criteria. However, on two criteria – establishing whether or not the intervention being discussed was truly new and avoiding relying totally on a press release for the story information – journalists’ performance declined between the earliest reviews and this latest set. In general, stories produced by a wire service or syndicate were most likely to be rated satisfactory. The few stories that were focused more on a disease or medical condition were most likely to be rated satisfactory, in general, followed by stories about surgical procedures. Stories about medical devices such as stents and pacemakers were least likely to successfully meet the criteria.

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