Throwing in the towel on network TV health news reviews

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Gary Schwitzer is publisher of  He has worked in health care journalism for more than 40 years.   He Tweets as @garyschwitzer, or using our project handle, @HealthNewsRevu.

Announcement on today:

You won’t be seeing network TV health news stories show up in the reviews on any more – at least not in the way they’ve appeared in the past. Reasons:

• This is just one part of an overall change we’ll be announcing soon – a change in the entire scope of which news organizations we will review.

• We can’t review everything.

• Reviewing the TV news segments is the most time-consuming part of our work because we transcribe the broadcasts ourselves.

• After 3.5 years and 228 network TV health segments reviewed, we can make the data-driven statement that many of the stories are bad and they’re not getting much better.

• Our last publisher’s note gave details on the embarrassing performance of the networks’ morning health news segments.

Here is a breakdown of 3.5 years of daily reviews of ABC, CBS, NBC.

Network TV scores after 228 reviews


Other interesting facts:

Reviews of these networks’ stories made up 27% of the first 855 reviews we conducted. (So it’s not like we didn’t give them a chance to improve!)

Of all of the stories we’ve reviewed by 60 news organizations in 3.5 years, there have been only 40 bottom-dwelling zero-star scores. These three networks account for 27 of those – or a whopping 68% of the total!

Conversely, the networks’ meager two five-star stories make up less than 2% of the total of 108 five-star scores recorded by all news organizations combined in 3.5 years.

Get the picture? This stuff is really bad.

One network TV health news producer has told me not even to bother to e-mail him about our reviews because he’s not going to share them with the staff anyway. He thinks it’s unfair that we apply the same 10 criteria to broadcast stories as we do to print stories. But neither he nor anyone else has ever pointed out even one of our ten criteria that is NOT important in every health care story.

So we will re-direct our efforts.

It’s not like we’ll ignore TV news. We’ll still comment on what we see in Publisher Notes or in a soon-to-be-introduced blog on this site.

We just won’t tie up a lot of time transcribing TV segments, and doing point-by-point critiques applying our ten standardized criteria – all with the intention of helping TV health news get better.

Some have said that one definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

If our critiques aren’t helping TV health news, it’s time to devote more attention to other news organizations where, perhaps, our constructive outreach efforts may do more good.

We urge TV health news decision-makers to realize how often they’re doing more harm than good with so many of their non-evidence-based, cheerleading promotions of treatments for wrinkles, weight loss, baldness, toenail fungus, etc.- and breathless enthusiasm for new devices and other “new stuff” in health care.

When I see craziness going on at Town Hall meetings on health care, I think about how this is a public whipped into a frenzy over believing they have the best health care system in the world – while the TV networks fuel that frenzy by seemingly curing everything almost every morning and night.

Broadcast journalism pioneer Edward R. Murrow said about TV: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Almost all of the TV stories we’ve reviewed in 3.5 years fail to teach, illuminate or inspire.

We’ll still be watching, hoping for change. . .

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