Reviewers find increase in five-star health stories

Is the quality of health journalism improving? Apparently it is, according to the HealthNewsReview.org project, which was created nearly three years ago to review and evaluate health news stories around the country.

In a note on the organization’s Web site, Gary Schwitzer, a University of Minnesota health journalism professor who launched and runs the project, wrote that, “of the first 710 stories reviewed on HealthNewsReview.org, only 88 – or 12 percent – have received a five-star score.” But five of the first 12 stories reviewed this year got top scores – a five-star review, which he calls “unprecedented.”

However, “it’s not about the stars,” Schwitzer tells us. “The star score is converted from a grade three reviewers (out of a team of several dozen) give each story for how it does on 10 standardized criteria.  The same 10 standardized criteria are applied to each story.  So, while there’s an element of subjectivity
in any grading system, this is as objective and standardized as we can get.” To learn more about the ratings and criteria involved, you can look here and here.

Just the same, Schwitzer wonders whether the site is making a difference and if it’s helping journalists do a better job. “We can’t be sure of the impact we’ve had,” he writes on the site, “but a recent analysis of many of the first stories we reviewed back in the Spring of 2006 compared with some of the most recent stories we reviewed in the Winter of 2008 suggests that the quality of health journalism is improving – despite all of the difficult economic times in newsrooms across the country.”

But if numbers tell the story, keep checking the site for insights and trends.

What do you think about the quality of health journalism – are you seeing more thoughtful and accurate stories? Do you visit HealthNewsReview.org and use its criteria when you write about health?

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