Almost since the inception of health journalism, reporting on medical research has been one of the mainstays of the job. That does not, however, mean it’s easy or work to be taken lightly. With dozens of potentially interesting and relevant papers coming out each week, full of statistics and findings that may or may not be “statistically significant” or “clinically significant,” covering medical studies can be daunting to a newcomer.
Enter one of the longest running workshops at the AHCJ annual conference: the Thursday morning session “Reporting on Medical Studies.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Ivan Oransky, an AHCJ board member, vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and founder of Retraction Watch, teaming up with Gary Schwitzer, founder of HealthNewsReview.org, to provide a crash course in writing about medical research and doing it well. This year, Kevin Lomangino, the managing editor of HealthNewsReview.org, and I, Tara Haelle, the AHCJ medical studies core topic leader, will join Oransky and Schwitzer to cram everything you need to know for a running start on medical research journalism into two hours on Thursday morning.
Schwitzer will open with an overview of the work at HealthNewsReview.org and a “report card” on how well news stories have fared when assessed according to HealthNewsReview.org criteria. Lomangino will pick it up from there to look at how well press releases fared in the reviews, including several examples.
Oransky will discuss the many ways research can be wrong, including many of the limitations of observational studies Lomangino touches on as well. I will review the different types of medical studies, the basic anatomy of a study, ways of assessing whether a study is worth covering and what to look for in doing so.
Then comes the fun part: the whole second hour of the workshop is devoted to a hands-on activity assessing the quality of a specific study and how journalists should approach reporting on it. Whether you’re new to medical research reporting or an old hand looking for a refresher, the Reporting on Medical Studies workshop likely has something to offer you in reporting on health without the hype.