Thursday, January 1, 2009

Health care journalism in survival mode

Lorell LaBoube
January 1, 2009

Today’s New England Journal of Medicine presents the “pitfalls of health care journalism” with a piece by Susan Denzter of Health Affairs and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.

Much of what she says is spot on.

“The news media need to become more knowledgeable and to embrace more fully our role in delivering to the public accurate, complete, and balanced messages about health,” Denzter says. “With some additional skills, care, and introspection — and a change in priorities — we can produce coverage more in line with our responsibilities.”

The first part of that quote is absolutely correct. The last part of the quote referencing “introspection” and “a change in priorities” will be difficult goals to achieve in today’s media environment.

Just today the Kansas City Kansan announced – online – that it was no longer publishing a printed newspaper after January 10. The Christian Science Monitor and The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., are among many that have taken this step.

The Kansas City Star announced massive layoffs in 2008. They weren’t alone in the newspaper industry. TV and radio broadcasting have not been immune to these pressures.

What does this mean?

The media is in a survival mode. This is not an environment for introspection and their priorities are to survive while remaining relevant.

Still, even in this environment health care reporters take their job seriously. An October 10 post of this blog carried a Q & A with Alan Bavley, longtime medical writer for the Kansas City Star. “Journalism is still a rough and tumble environment,” Bavley said. “There are deadlines to meet. Limited space in a newspaper. Limited time for a broadcast. We try to do our best.”

So what should we do as nonprofit healthcare organizations in this environment?

Face reality. Traditional news holes are shrinking. Reporters will come and go.

It’s up to us, when we have stories to tell, to engage and educate reporters at every opportunity. We have to accept our responsibility to improve health care coverage along with journalists.

As Ms. Dentzer says, “it will take many expert hands to ensure that the health news the public reads really is fit to print.”

What do you think? View and share your comments by clicking here.

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