HealthNewsReview.org is an attempt to help improve the accuracy, balance and completeness of news stories that make claims about new ideas in health care. It is not intended to belittle the hard work of well-intentioned journalists. I covered health and medical news on a daily basis for 15 years and I know about deadline pressures. I know you don’t always have the time and space you need. I know that you don’t call all the shots – that editors or producers or news directors play a significant role in what is finally reported.
Our ratings criteria are clear and fair. And, yes, they’re tough. Journalists may ask, "How can you expect us to cover all of these in each story?" But good health care journalists find a way to fit this information into their stories (see a five-star example on this site). One thing is inarguable: consumers need this information in order to make good health care decisions. We set the bar high. Consumers deserve nothing less.
We also want to thank the Media Doctor websites in Australia and Canada – our inspiration for this site.
A top Canadian health care journalist, Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail of Toronto, has been reviewed by the Media Doctor Canada project. In a recent e-mail to me, Picard wrote: "I actually like having my stories reviewed because we get so little useful feedback." Once he received a weaker two-star grade for a vaccine story. "When I looked back at the two star effort I thought: ‘Yes, there’s some basic info missing.’ When I wrote another vaccine story recently, I was more careful and thorough. Some of my colleagues complain that the criteria are unfair, that they don’t have room to get everything in every story. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that – and most of my stories are in the 400-800 word range."
We hope that U.S. journalists find our reviews helpful and accept the constructive criticism. This project is intended to support excellence in health and medical journalism. But it’s also intended to help news consumers and health care consumers get the information they need to make decisions.