Shining a spotlight on 5-star stories

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Of the first 710 stories reviewed on, only 88 – or 12% have received our top five-star score.

But in one recent 8-day span, a record of four stories were given a five-star review by three independent reviewers – using the same ten standardized criteria we apply to all stories.

Here are those four:

• An Associated Press story, “Fewer clogged arteries need heart stents, study finds; blood-flow test can show which ones do.”

• A Cleveland Plain Dealer story, “Early Cesareans put babies at risk, study finds.”

We said: “Good job describing the current study and quantifying the results and quoting multiple experts who provide different perspectives. Valuable information for readers – and in only about 500 words.”

• An Associated Press story, “Alzheimer’s drugs double death risk in elderly.”

We said: “In fewer than 450 words, this story gives good details on study methods, comments from two independent experts, and context about previous research and current treatment. Nice job.”

• A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story, “Deep in brain, shocks help Parkinson’s symptoms.”

We said: “Solid job balancing positive study findings with negative ones, providing opportunity for a skeptic to air concerns. Good to see a newspaper devote more than 1,000 words to a story these days!”

Is making a difference? Is it helping journalists do a better job?

We can’t be sure of the impact we’ve had, but a recent analysis of many of the first stories we reviewed back in the Spring of 2006 compared with some of the most recent stories we reviewed in the Winter of 2008 suggests that the quality of health journalism is improving – despite all of the difficult economic times in newsrooms across the country.

More on this data in weeks to come.

Meantime, congratulations to those working so hard to maintain and improve the quality of health care news coverage in this country.

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