One of the trickiest balances a health reporter must strike is the one between anecdotes and evidence. The former is the compelling narrative that makes readers want to dive into an article because personal stories are engaging and help us relate to bigger, more abstract ideas.
Yet those anecdotes must be rooted in a body of research that supports their claims. Continue reading
The recent chemical spill in West Virginia, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people, became another occasion when federal agencies shut the door on reporters seeking answers, fueling public anxiety with their silence.
But after complaints from journalism organizations, including AHCJ, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week issued a mea culpa and a pledge “to work to reach that critical balance between accuracy and timely release of information the public expects and needs to protect their health.”
The CDC told West Virginia health officials on Jan. 15 that pregnant women should not drink the water until the chemical, called Crude MCHM, was at “nondetectable levels.” Reporters from the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette had a lot of questions about this order – but could get no answers from the CDC press office. Continue reading
When Wisconsin State Journal reporter David Wahlberg investigated what appeared to be rural Wisconsin’s increase in gastroschisis, a rare birth defect in which the intestines grow outside of an infant’s body and must be replaced after delivery, the lack of institutional research, statistics or easy answers seemed to raise far more questions than it answered, particularly in relation to rural incidence and pesticide use.
Wahlberg’s solution to this roadblock is to dive headlong into the human component of the story. In a two-part narrative (Part 1, Part 2), he puts these larger questions on the back burner and instead follows a family, in real time, as they deliver an infant boy who had been diagnosed with the condition during an ultrasound. No amount of summary would do Wahlberg’s piece justice, so I encourage you to simply invest a few minutes and bury yourself in the details. You’ll exit with an understanding of the condition and the toll it takes that no amount of statistical analysis could match.