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5-Star Friday: Texting, “skipping chemo,” rethinking breast cancer treatment, and Planned Parenthood

5 stars 410 x 273Five-star Friday is our ongoing effort to recognize excellence in health care journalism — both in the stories that we review on this site and in the larger media landscape. In the former category, we’ve had two recent stories garner five stars from members of our expert review team comprised of both journalists and health care professionals.

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We also call your attention to a “story” that originally received a 4-star rating from reviewers but was subsequently found to be a news release masquerading as journalism. Although we downgraded the rating to 0 stars, we think the news release from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center — where the text originated — was exemplary. Our reviewers said it “had much to admire, including clear quantification of benefits and an acknowledgment of study dropouts and potential harms.”

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Out in the wider media landscape, we’ve seen a couple of examples of journalistic excellence that merit a look from HealthNewsReview.org readers.

Siobhan O’Connor at Time reports on Why Doctors Are Rethinking Breast-Cancer Treatment. Excerpt: “Thanks to advances in genomic testing and deeper insights into the biology of different kinds of breast cancer, doctors are learning that the one-size-fits-all approach isn’t working. They’re also learning that every woman brings with her a unique profile of biological risk–as well as a unique appetite for risk. That means that while some women require urgent and aggressive treatment, there are many who can slow down and take a more sparing approach.”

Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check, a site focusing on reproductive health and sexual justice, made a fascinating side-by-side comparison of two NPR stories about recent controversies related to Planned Parenthood. She noted that one piece did an excellent job of providing evidence and context surrounding the issue of secretly recorded, highly edited videos that portray Planned Parenthood officials in a negative light. But a second story on fetal tissue research failed to ground the discussion in evidence, didn’t provide sufficient context, and didn’t call attention to important conflicts of interest, she said. Excerpt:  “The close juxtaposition of these two segments reveals the gap between good, thoughtful, and accurate reporting on issues like abortion, and reporting based on sources who use spurious ‘scientific’ information, questionable ‘evidence,’ and innuendo to make a case based on their own political agenda. It is the job of the media to help inform the public by providing information that is accurate, fair, and thorough, and neither misinforms nor oversimplifies.”

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Lastly, Publisher Gary Schwitzer was invited to report on this project in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. His piece —  Trying to drink from a fire hose: too much of the wrong kind of health care news — looks at recent news stories and news releases that exemplify the importance of our review criteria. Excerpt: “When you look at media messages about health care every day as I do, you see that patients and consumers are flooded with a tsunami of confusing, conflicted messages about health-care interventions. Maybe a better water analogy is this: news consumers and health-care consumers are thirsty for just a sip of accurate, balanced, complete information about the myriad health-care decisions they face. But with the high-pressure flow of media information, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. So consumers are drowning.”

Did you see any great health care stories that we missed? Post a link to them in the comments.

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