The decline of health care journalism

Uploaded by UniversityofMinn on 11.03.2009

I'm Gary Schwitzer, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
and author of this report to the Kaiser family foundation on the state of health journalism
in the U.S. The most overwhelming data point is really the saddest one.
About 94 percent of journalists who responded to the survey said that bottom line pressures
in their news organizations were seriously hurting the quality of healthcare news coverage.
A majority of the respondents, more than 50 percent said that there is too much coverage
of sort of light fluffy, feature-ish, consumer or lifestyle health news,
but too little coverage of health policy, too little coverage of the quality of healthcare,
and about disparities in the delivery of healthcare.
Just under half of the journalists who responded said that their organizations sometimes
or frequently base their stories on news releases
without doing substantial additional reporting.
This should be of concern to anyone reading these stories, and about 1 in 10 reporters,
about 11 percent, said that his or her own news organization sometimes
or frequently allowed advertisers, sales staff, or sponsors, to influence story selection
or content, and more than a quarter of respondents they personally get story ideas
from public relations firms or marketing outreach somewhat or very often.
There are conflicts of interest around every corner in healthcare,
and it is the job of journalism to independently vet claims that are made,
not to contribute free advertising to the cause, that's not journalism, that's advertising.
And under these intense pressures that people face in newsrooms today, I'm afraid,
and we have evidence of this as the survey shows, that it's becoming much easier for vested
to commercial interests, to have their own way with news messages that come to all of us,
and we naively think that there is independent vetted editorial judgment going on,
when often times because of commercial pressures, and the reality in newsrooms
of fewer people being asked to do more with less.
That independent judgment isn't there all the time anymore.
New media holds a lot of hope.
Perhaps pushing hyperbole as much as I might have in this report,
I think at one point I referred to it as possibly ushering in a new golden era
of healthcare journalism where you can use new media and online assets
to go into depth at the users choice.
To use multimedia to help explain things better than you might be able to just in text.
So in the newsrooms, with the people we've talked to,
unfortunately many journalists are now having multimedia tasks heaped
onto their already busy schedules, and responsibilities without any additional pay.
And it's like you know, "take it or leave it
or you can join your colleagues who were just laid off."
Yet some, even in the face of that, do embrace it and go out of their way to learn new media,
because they see, we can't fight this, and some don't want to fight it,
they see it as an exciting opportunity.
So, this is not an all dark bad news story, there clearly is some glimmer
of light at the end of the tunnel.
At least things are being tried, and in healthcare, I should say that I think
that health journalists are helping to lead the way in quality improvement as much
as any other type of journalist in newsrooms today and I am following folks everyday
who are using facebook and twitter and social media networking opportunities to help dig
and research and find people and tell their stories, and I think that's exciting.