Podcast, webcast, survey of Association of Health Care Journalist members and my report on the state of health journalism are all available online.
The University of Minnesota News Service videotaped the following interview with me about the higlights of the report.
Personally, the 50 hours or so of indepth interviews I conducted with health care journalists for this report was a buzz kill. I spent a lot of time with smart, dedicated, hard-working people who didn’t feel they were able to do their best work anymore. Coast to coast, all media types, all market sizes, all experience levels.
But from a public policy – public discussion perspective, this report should be the strongest of warnings to managers of news organizations and to policy makers.
Ninety-four percent of survey respondents say the bottom line pressure in media organizations is seriously hurting the quality of news coverage of health care issues;
88% of survey respondents think health care coverage leans too much toward short “quick hit” stories, and two-thirds (64%) say the trend toward shorter stories has gotten worse in the past few years.
A majority of respondents (52%) say there is too much coverage of consumer or lifestyle health, and too little of health policy (70%), health care quality (70%), and health disparities (69%).
Just under half (44%) of staff journalists participating in the survey say that their organization sometimes (33%) or frequently (10%) bases stories on news releases without substantial additional reporting.
About one in 10 staff journalists in the survey (11%) say his or her own organization sometimes or frequently allows advertisers, sales staff or sponsors to influence story selection or content and more than a quarter of respondents (28%) say they personally get story ideas from public relations firms or marketing outreach somewhat or very often.
So on the eve of what may be the most important health policy discussion in this country in 15 years, we’re covering these topics less frequently.
Instead, our news organizations often cover cutesy, soft, fluffy, news you can use.
Or our news organizations often make it seem like every medical journal, every scientific meeting is like Christmas Day with terrific new toys under the tree that have no side effects and no price tag.
The “more is not always better, newer is not always better, screening tests don’t always make sense” evidence-based wisdom of so many of our veteran health care journalists is either not appreciated or it’s being lost to cutbacks, buyouts, layoffs.
The improvement in health journalism – in pockets across the country – has been one of the major advances in all of journalism in the past decade. And it could be one of journalism’s greatest losses.
So while we know that the cutbacks hitting the health beat affect ALL of journalism, the argument could be made that these topics in these times can least afford setbacks.