The first AHCJ conference I ever attended was in 2011 in Philadelphia. I had only recently learned about the organization and knew very little about it. I’d signed up for a field trip, but I had brought my 8-month-old with me and was up late the night before, so overslept and missed it.
When I actually got to the conference (my aunt watched my son), I caught the second half of a Thursday workshop with Ivan Oransky, M.D., (now AHCJ’s president) and Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org on how to understand and responsibly report on medical studies. It was the session I would eventually end up leading myself years later.
At the time of my first conference, I was only writing about medical studies for a tiny Austin start-up (that later inevitably failed) for a few months. I had no idea what I was doing. I often relied on press releases. Oransky’s and Schwitzer’s workshop was like coming out of Plato’s allegorical cave to realize — painfully — just how little I knew, how much I had to learn and how poorly I’d been reporting research up at that point.
It was impossible to absorb everything Oransky and Schwitzer went over that day — and I‘d arrived halfway through as it was. But perhaps the most helpful takeaway was a list shared by Schwitzer of 10 HealthNewsReview.com criteria that the site has used for more than a decade to evaluate the quality of media coverage of medical research. On the one hand, it was intimidating and overwhelming and felt impossible to follow. On the other, at least I had some kind of simple, straightforward structure to start with, even if it took a while before I learned how to give adequate attention to each criterion.
Ten years later, I was sad to learn HealthNewsReview.org would cease daily reviews at the end of 2018, but Schwitzer has said the site will still publish occasional blog posts and remain available as an invaluable resource for green and veteran health reporters alike.
Shortly before it closed up shop, I asked Schwitzer some questions about specific criteria that I and other colleagues have struggled with. The resulting AHCJ tip sheet, in a Q&A format, goes deeper into the nuts and bolts of meeting those criteria (though it’s worth noting the site has a wealth of resources specific to each of the criteria already). I bolded some of his comments that I found particularly helpful, and summarized a few points for those skimming.
Whether you’re new to covering studies or old hat, this tip sheet – like so many of the resources available at HealthNewsReview – can help in determining what you need to include in your coverage of medical research and how to proceed when the answers may not initially seem straightforward.