Broadcasters suggest strategies to tell health care stories #ahcj13

Andrea King Collier

About Andrea King Collier

Andrea King Collier (@andreacollier) is an independent journalist in Lansing, Mich. She attended Health Journalism 2016 on an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Broadcast – radio and television – is an important part of storytelling. News outlets want even more from journalists than ever before. Readers and viewers want stories that answer their questions. But how do you find strong video and audio ways into stories that often seem just perfect for print? A panel at Health Journalism 2013 explored some ways.

John Palfreman, Ph.D., the KEZI distinguished professor of broadcast journalism at University of Oregon and seasoned documentary producer for Frontline, says the story of health care reform is not yet “sticky.” He says that journalists have to continue to put those stories out there.

“Some of the hardest stories to tell are around the economics of health care. But they are the most needed,” Palfreman said.

Palfreman encouraged journalists to find ways to use stories about people to give life to the studies that we get in our inboxes.  He showed an excerpt from a Frontline documentary he produced on health care systems around the world. Although it is a long-form video piece, he said that no matter the format, journalists need to think about using good storytelling to present stories in ways that connect with viewers.

Andrew Holtz, M.P.H., an independent journalist based in Portland, Ore., encouraged journalists to look at stories that are important but often difficult to tell. Instead of just proposing a story, the pros suggested proposing a series that gives you more time and space to tell a story. There is the opportunity to tell a story more creatively by taking on different angles around a policy or program.

Kelley Weiss, a journalist who produces radio stories for the CHCF Center for Health Reporting, talked about taking a story on Medicaid and the federal match program. She went into the story by doing an interview with a financial planner to talk about the numbers in a new and innovative way.

There are also the challenges of telling a health care policy story when there are no real numbers to help tell the story. The panelists suggested that perhaps the “fact that there are no numbers yet might actually be THE story.” And when you don’t have numbers on impact, think about setting up a camera and a microphone or tape recorder to do “man on the street” interviews to find good story answers. Ask employers or employees how policies and changes will impact them.

The group discussed the challenges of using people to tell a good health care story and finding ways to get their participation and to protect their privacy, especially in the age of HIPAA. Getting the interview from a patient may be difficult. Hospital and clinic communications people may be less than helpful in helping journalists secure interviews. The group discussed several “work-arounds,” including to securing permission from a potential interviewee before approaching the hospital. All agreed that the HIPAA rules have made it more difficult to get access to patients.

One of the most important points of the panel is that, with the tools out there – cell phones, flip cameras, good audio recorders – there are a ton of stories that journalists can mine to do good, solid health reporting .

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