Emily Woodruff, a health care reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, was recognized as one of the winners of AHCJ’s 2021 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the beat reporting and health policy (small) categories at Health Journalism 2022.
Her winning local COVID-19 coverage offered a vivid picture of how Louisiana’s hospitals, health care providers and residents were coping with the ongoing pandemic and other events impacting health in communities, such as hurricanes, the opioid epidemic and other diseases. In many of her articles, Woodruff provided readers with a sense of connection to people featured in her stories.
In this “How I did It,” Woodruff shares her process for building trust with sources and enlivening her stories.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you create captivating scenes in your articles? What are your top tips?
You can probably tell in the stories when I was there with someone as an interaction unfolded or when I got to meet someone in their environment. I think that helps a lot. During COVID, we weren’t able to do a lot of that, and it’s something I missed. I think health care reporters in general, have to spend more time interviewing someone for any given story. Often [health reporters] are interviewing people who aren’t used to talking to the media. For a lot of these stories, you have to spend some time [with them]. You have to indicate that you understand where they’re coming from. So, a lot of times that looks like just being informed about whatever issue it is that they’re facing.
The images that accompany health stories can have a significant impact on people’s understanding, attitudes and behaviors regarding a health issue. I repeatedly beat the drum about using appropriate imagery for stories related to vaccines. But plenty of other health topics have their pitfalls when it comes to imagery.
- Images accompanying stories about a disease can shape public perception of the disease and those who have it.
- Medical imagery in the media and textbooks has a history of racism and exclusion of people of color.
- Using Black skin images of monkeypox for stories about the current outbreak in predominantly white people perpetuates casual racism by associating Black people with the disease and may lead white people to dismiss their disease risk or not recognize a potential monkeypox rash.
These images from the Marshfield Clinic can be freely used in journalistic stories to illustrate monkeypox on white skin.
The field of dermatology has recently been reckoning with how skin conditions are depicted, whether in news stories, medical textbooks or journals, or other online resources. When nearly all photos of skin conditions are on white skin, doctors may misdiagnose or entirely miss a condition in people of color because the disease looks different on darker skin, potentially harming patients of color. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology created a Skin of Color Image Atlas to ensure such images are available to physicians.
But an opposite and just as harmful problem has emerged: Media outlets covering the monkeypox outbreak are frequently using images of Black people even though nearly all cases are among white people.
Eliza Strickland Mark Harris
What happens to users of cutting-edge implants when the only company that makes the technology runs out of money? That’s the question we set out to answer during a year-long investigation of the Argus II retinal implant, manufactured by a California company called Second Sight Medical Products. The investigation was published by IEEE Spectrum in February and covered in a recent Science Friday broadcast.
Strickland had first written for Spectrum about the company back in 2011, lauding the development of a revolutionary eye implant that restored a crude kind of artificial vision to blind people involved in Second Sight’s clinical trials. That article featured a New Yorker named Barbara Campbell, who had been completely blind since her 30s because of a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, but who could then make out rough shapes, figures and lights. The retinal implant connected wirelessly to a pair of sunglasses housing a low-resolution video camera. In 2013, the Argus II system was the first visual prosthesis to be approved by the FDA.
As the Argus II rolled out in the United States and around the world, many more such stories were written, typically showing users delighted to regain some vision — even if it was only flashes of light and shades of gray. Globally, over 350 people would ultimately have an Argus II implanted.
Late in 2020, Strickland revisited Second Sight to write a blog post about its latest project: a brain implant that stimulates the user’s visual cortex directly, potentially opening up its prosthetic system to a much wider group of people with vision challenges. Tucked away in that post were a few lines noting that the company had suspended production of the Argus II device and had recently suffered financial difficulties, nearly going out of business in early 2020. Strickland tried to contact the company for a status update, but didn’t get a response to her emails and phone calls.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra (Photo courtesy of HHS)
The Biden administration announced its plan yesterday to establish a new Office of Environmental Justice, intended to focus on efforts to ensure all communities have access to clean air and water and to ease the effects of disruptive traffic and industry.
“The blunt truth is that many communities across our nation — particularly low-income communities and communities of color — continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, poor land use decisions, transportation and trade corridors,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention. That’s why HHS is establishing the Office of Environmental Justice.”
The HHS announcement follows a similar one from the Justice Department, which on May 5 detailed plans for its Office of Environmental Justice. The Justice Department said this new unit is intended to serve as a central hub for efforts to address violations of laws that have disproportionately affected “communities of color, indigenous communities and low-income communities,” which “often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution and climate change.”
On May 12, Glenn Thrush and Lisa Friedman of the New York Times reported on these efforts already underway within the DOJ, “Justice Dept. Tries to Shift Environmental Justice Efforts From Symbolic to Substantive.” David Nakamura and Darryl Fears of the Washington Post on May 5 covered the DOJ’s announcement, “Justice Dept. boosts focus on environmental cases that harm the poor.”
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected within weeks to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade case, journalists can anticipate an increased focus on abortion pills.
With that in mind, here’s a new tip sheet to aid reporters covering the patient-safety aspect of the use of this medication, also known as RU-486.
In 2020, medication abortion accounted for 54% of U.S. abortions, marking the first time it has made up the majority of all abortions, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. The institute’s report shows a slow uptick in the use of this treatment since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 2000, first approved the use of the drug mifepristone, also known under the brand name Mifeprex. It’s taken in combination with another medicine, misoprostol, to end early pregnancies. The treatment interrupts the hormone progesterone that the body needs to continue a pregnancy.
State officials long have been preparing for a Supreme Court case that allows for either an outright ban or greater restrictions on abortion access, wrote Kaiser Family Foundation researchers Laurie Sobel, Alina Salganicoff, and Amrutha Ramaswamy in a May 16 report. There’s an expectation that half of states will seek to block legal abortion, they noted.