Conflicts of interest in health care journalism: VIDEO with our publisher about “an unhealthy state of things” (Part 3 of 3)

Gary Schwitzer is publisher and founder of HealthNewsReview.org.  He has worked in health care journalism for more than 40 years and has taught media ethics and health care journalism at the University of Minnesota. He tweets as @garyschwitzer or using our project handle, @HealthNewsRevu.

In the past two days, we’ve outlined a number of concerns about news organizations, professional journalism organizations and academic institutions that are involved in health care journalism reporting or training while accepting sponsorship or funding from health care industry entities that are often subjects of what the journalists or trainees do or will write about. (Part one of series. Part two.) These practices may be good for corporate, organizational or academic institution coffers, but the sponsorship comes at a price – of potential damage to journalism’s integrity and to the public trust in journalism, news reports and news organizations.

We have touched on examples of our concerns involving:

  • The World Conference of Science Journalists
  • The Association of Health Care Journalists
  • The University of Colorado
  • The University of Kansas
  • The National Press Foundation
  • NPR, STAT, Vox.com

Ben Bagdikian, journalist/educator/media critic, wrote to and about journalists:

“Never forget that your obligation is to the people. It is not, at heart, to those who pay you, or to your editor, or to your sources, or to your friends, or to the advancement of your career. It is to the public.”

In this final part of our three-part series, I talk about some of these issues in more depth, and from the perspective of my growing concerns over a 44-year career in health care journalism.

President Donald Trump, in a recent commencement address at Liberty University, claimed: “Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic.”  I couldn’t disagree more. It is not easy to offer carefully thought-out, constructive criticism to people whose work you usually admire and respect as I admire and respect many of the people whose organizational policies we have criticized in this series. In response to the President’s “pathetic” comment, I’ll simply counter with a few favorite quotes:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale, minister, author

“Writers shouldn’t fear criticism. Instead, they should fear silence. Criticism is healthy. It gets people thinking about your work and, even better, it gets them talking and arguing. But as for silence — it is the greatest killer of writers.”- Author Robert Fanney.

We invite a healthy discussion about some of the current trends of more news organizations accepting industry support from the industries they write about every day. Because, as Churchill described, we think it is an “unhealthy state of things.”

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