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Reporting on healthJohn Lister. Coventry University. May 2013
Why health coverage importantNEWS stories abound, because HEALTH offers:World’s biggest industry $5 trillion-plus turnov...
News values and health3Conflict of interest affecting reporters, editors andnews media owners.Journalists want stories t...
Problems in health reporting4Not part of journalists’ basic trainingSurveys show most news on healthreported by non-spec...
Obstacles to involvingjournalists in further trainingThinned out newsrooms and profit-orientedemployers mean few resource...
Why does it matter?6News media are the only source ofinformation for most of general publicFew health workers will be aw...
Accuracy in medical reportsMany stories on medical research, science andnew treatments based on press releasesCore resea...
Peer review not enoughEven where science stories based on info from peerreviewed journals, problems remainLancet editor ...
Horton’s ten points9 6. Undisclosed conflicts of interest: “the continuingprivatisation of much of science threatens to m...
Reporting: the basicsKey issues for journalists:Access points for informationTimely information for journalists underpr...
Criteria to measure qualityGary Schwitzer/ healthnewsreview.orgdeveloped ten point checklist to identifystrengths and wea...
My ten points on policy1. Does the story ask whether there is anyconcrete plan and timescale forimplementation?2. Does it ...
My ten points (6-10)136. Does the story unreasonably suggest aconsensus in favour of the policy and ignoreopposing views?7...
Our aim: improved healthjournalismNot telling people what to say, but keen toensure CRITICAL approachBreak dependence on...
Prioritising topics for furthertraining: journalists’ choiceMedical Research and ScienceThe business/economics of health...
Extra skills most in demandHow to evaluate conflicts of interestHow to interpret medical research reportsHow to underst...
Resources for learningTraining packages varied according toexpressed interest in surveyQuite wide differences & contradi...
Big gaps: how can they be filled?Two thirds overall (and more than half in everycountry) felt that the level of coverage ...
Journos unimpressedEU Health journalists were strikinglyunenthusiastic about the quality of specificareas of health journ...
What next?Campaign with NUJ to: survey prevalence ofhealth specialists in newsrooms, campaign foreach newsroom to have he...
Thankyou!Dr John ListerJ.lister@coventry.ac.uk@JohnRListerwww.healthemergency.org.ukwww.europeanhealthjournalism.com21
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What we’ve learned working with health journalists across Europe by John Lister

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John Lister of Coventry University discusses the strengths and pitfalls of foing health and health policy journalism across Europe, and what we can learn in North America.

Presented on behalf of EvidenceNetwork.ca at the University of Manitoba and via webinar on May 14, 2013.

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Transcript of "What we’ve learned working with health journalists across Europe by John Lister "

  1. 1. Reporting on healthJohn Lister. Coventry University. May 2013
  2. 2. Why health coverage importantNEWS stories abound, because HEALTH offers:World’s biggest industry $5 trillion-plus turnoverWorld’s biggest employerMajor political issue in every countryLocal, regional, national, international, globalSocial issue – defining national cultureScientific stories – medical research, impact oftreatments and diseases etcPersonal interests of news audiences: humaninterest stories; will I/grandma get treated? etc2
  3. 3. News values and health3Conflict of interest affecting reporters, editors andnews media owners.Journalists want stories that count high in newsvalues for their target audienceThey want good news on research and curesHappy to focus on bad news on health systemsThey want simple news (and therefore try tosimplify sometimes carefully nuanced reportsand findings)
  4. 4. Problems in health reporting4Not part of journalists’ basic trainingSurveys show most news on healthreported by non-specialistsEven most specialist health reporterslargely self taughtAHCJ/KFF surveyReuters Institute surveyHeaRT surveyHealth specialists no journalism training.
  5. 5. Obstacles to involvingjournalists in further trainingThinned out newsrooms and profit-orientedemployers mean few resources and noencouragement for trainingMany journalists already in post making a livingas health reporters without trainingEditors also lack health journalism training,happy with existing standardsSo we need to persuade journalists, staff &freelance to give up time & spend money toparticipate in extra training5
  6. 6. Why does it matter?6News media are the only source ofinformation for most of general publicFew health workers will be aware of issuesoutside their own sphere of activity(department, service, locality, specialism)Media responsibility to critique information,put in context, popularise and explainMisleading info can cause panic and impacton health (MMR) + policy (swine flu)
  7. 7. Accuracy in medical reportsMany stories on medical research, science andnew treatments based on press releasesCore research and science is often simplifiedand “spun” for headlines by PR deptsThe result can be exaggerations, negativefindings suppressed, misleading statistics, etcMuch of the research conducted by profit-seeking organisations: Universities seek profile,research grants and recruitment7
  8. 8. Peer review not enoughEven where science stories based on info from peerreviewed journals, problems remainLancet editor Richard Horton has identified tenproblems1. Manipulation of research findings2. Bias toward positive findings in sponsored studies3. Undisclosed adverse data4. Actively hiding negative data5. Supplement publishing: Journal supplementsoften represent little more than information-laundering operations for industry.8
  9. 9. Horton’s ten points9 6. Undisclosed conflicts of interest: “the continuingprivatisation of much of science threatens to makeindependent research almost impossible to do.” 7. Editorial kick-backs 8. Ghost-writing: pharmaceutical companies seed themedical literature with ghostwritten editorials, reviews, andopinion pieces: a company friendly expert is then paid tohave his or her name appear on the article. 9. Continuing medical education: Industry is now a majorsponsor of medical "education". A former editor of the NEJM,Marcia Angell, estimates that about 60% of CME in the US ispaid for by industry. 10. Failure to align commercial with public interests.
  10. 10. Reporting: the basicsKey issues for journalists:Access points for informationTimely information for journalists underpressure in thinned-out newsroomsRange of information (Board papers, etc) notjust occasional press releases on selected issuesTransparency – not shrouding details with“business in confidence”Journos also need informed comment andanalysis – need public access to information10
  11. 11. Criteria to measure qualityGary Schwitzer/ healthnewsreview.orgdeveloped ten point checklist to identifystrengths and weaknesses of reports onmedical treatment and innovationsIn my view it is also important to scrutiniseevidence and critique articles on health policyissuesRecent example in England of Health & SocialCare Act, poorly reported, public unaware11
  12. 12. My ten points on policy1. Does the story ask whether there is anyconcrete plan and timescale forimplementation?2. Does it explain costs & identify funding?3. Does it question whether the policy based onideology or addressing a genuine problem?4. Does it seek evidence of the effectivenessof the policy and that it has been usedsuccessfully elsewhere?5. Are the downsides of the policy explored?12
  13. 13. My ten points (6-10)136. Does the story unreasonably suggest aconsensus in favour of the policy and ignoreopposing views?7. Are the claimed benefits of the policyexplored and questioned?8. Does the story largely stem from officialpress releases promoting the policy?9. Are potential conflicts of interestexplored?10. Are alternative policies discussed?
  14. 14. Our aim: improved healthjournalismNot telling people what to say, but keen toensure CRITICAL approachBreak dependence on official handouts andpress releasesOffer links, resources and suggest howjournalists can develop their own lists ofuseful contacts for independent comment.Demand increased transparency fromhealth care commissioners and providers14
  15. 15. Prioritising topics for furthertraining: journalists’ choiceMedical Research and ScienceThe business/economics of health careHealth policyHealth care quality and performanceGlobal HealthConsumer/Lifestyle healthThe politics of health careHealth disparitiesThe workings of publicly financed health programs15
  16. 16. Extra skills most in demandHow to evaluate conflicts of interestHow to interpret medical research reportsHow to understand statisticsHow to understand hospital and other financial reportsHow to map health conditions, services and the like inmy communityHow to do multimedia reportingHow to search for medical information onlineHow to work with Excel or other analytical softwareHow to understand public opinion polls and surveys16
  17. 17. Resources for learningTraining packages varied according toexpressed interest in surveyQuite wide differences & contradictionsOur survey showed the preference was fortaught sessions backed up by onlineresources rather than purely online coursesAgain different countries face differentpreferences/time constraints: UK leastfavourable to 4-day course17
  18. 18. Big gaps: how can they be filled?Two thirds overall (and more than half in everycountry) felt that the level of coverage of GlobalHealth was inadequate, 80% of Romanians, 76% ofBritish and 72% of German journalists felt there wasnot enough Global Health reporting: but only 30% ofRomanians, 18% of British and 12% of Germanswanted training on Global Health.The subject that scored the highest for “too much”coverage (37%) and the lowest for “not enough”(14%) was Consumer and Lifestyle health.18
  19. 19. Journos unimpressedEU Health journalists were strikinglyunenthusiastic about the quality of specificareas of health journalism by their colleaguesAt most 39% regarded coverage of ANY of thetopics as either good or excellentFive of eight topics scored less than 30%.Especially low numbers regarded reports onThe Business and Economics of HealthCare, The Politics of Health Care and HealthDisparities as excellent.19
  20. 20. What next?Campaign with NUJ to: survey prevalence ofhealth specialists in newsrooms, campaign foreach newsroom to have health reporterDevelop short course options (Coventry Uni)E-book on health journalismwww.europeanhealthjournalism.comDevelop a blog sharing experience, tips andknowledge on health reportingOther ideas & suggestions EU/Canada/US/world!20
  21. 21. Thankyou!Dr John ListerJ.lister@coventry.ac.uk@JohnRListerwww.healthemergency.org.ukwww.europeanhealthjournalism.com21
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