Author Archives: Alan Scher Zagier

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About Alan Scher Zagier

Alan Scher Zagier is a St. Louis-based independent journalist who came to Missouri on a one-year teaching appointment at the Mizzou School of Journalism and decided to stick around. He spent 11 years with The Associated Press and has worked as a newspaper editor and reporter in Florida and North Carolina. He is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Offit challenges reporters to avoid false balance #ahcj14

Photo by Maggie Prude

Photo by Maggie Prude

Paul Offit, M.D., has had it with the journalistic canard of false balance as a reflexive stand-in for objectivity – and he’s not shy about taking health journalists to task for their contributions to what he calls a skewed public narrative on the dangers of vaccines.

“You tell two sides of the story when only one side is supported by science,” the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine pediatrics professor and scourge of anti-vaccine activists said at Saturday’s Health Journalism 2014 awards luncheon.

Offit singled out a Philadelphia television news station’s breathless report on a meningitis B vaccine offered to Princeton University students in response to a 2013 outbreak of a rare strain that was also found at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The report was entitled “Student Guinea Pigs?” and featured interviews with both Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Sherri Tenpenny, D.O., a vaccine critic. The reporter frames Tenpenny’s sound-bite with the jarring qualifier that while she “doesn’t hate vaccines,” Tenpenny has doubts about the vaccine made available to Princeton students. Continue reading

Online hospital inspection reports open door to power reporting #ahcj13

Any reporter who has sought public records from the feds knows the practical nightmare that is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Delays of months, years and even decades before receiving requested documents or data are not uncommon.

Now, after years of negotiations with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Association of Health Care Journalists is offering both reporters and the general public instant online access to thousands of federal inspection reports for hospitals nationwide with a searchable news application at

AHCJ board president Charles Ornstein of ProPublica helped unveil the site at a Saturday morning news briefing in Boston.

“Until now, you weren’t able to see what [hospitals] were doing, because you had to request all these in PDF format, and compare them [individually],” he said. “Now, you can actually use the power of data to find examples, and write that story. Continue reading