Tag Archives: columbia journalism review

‘Main Street’ informed, skeptical on health reform

In her blog on CJR.org, AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman updates what is becoming an annual franchise: Her summer man-on-the-street column gauging popular opinion on health reform. Just like last year, Lieberman found her subjects on the streets of Columbia, Mo., a town that’s about as close to the (population) center of the United States as you can get.

The common thread? Missourians were pretty sure health care reform wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but still weren’t willing to vote “yes” in the state’s referendum on opting out of the individual mandate.

Lieberman added a concrete dimension to her main street opinions by prying details on income and expenses from her sources, numbers and ideas which she then used to link their stories to the larger themes surrounding reform implementation.

Keep an eye out for part two of the column, which should be coming soon.

Lieberman: Pollack wrong, reform coverage lacking

Last week, Harold Pollack (bio), a University of Chicago professor who has been contributing to The New Republic‘s The Treatment blog, recently referred to health care reform reporting as “the most careful, most thorough, and most effective reporting of any major story, ever.”

AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman took issue with that in a post on CJR.org.

Better coverage than the Vietnam War; the civil rights movement; the consumer movement? Really? In the case of the civil rights struggle, the press helped change the discourse; Americans began to view race in a new way, which led to the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act. During the Vietnam War, the media effectively changed the public dialogue from a war we couldn’t lose to one we could not win. In the early days of the consumer movement, media coverage of Ralph Nader led Congress to enact significant consumer protections. Coverage of health reform has hardly risen to that level.

Lieberman writes that health care reform coverage failed because the public was inadequately educated on the finer points of reform efforts. Her evidence? That public opinion was roughly split on reform. Had reporting been better, Lieberman writes, public support levels would have been higher. She then brings up a number of issues she says were undercovered and uses examples to back them up.

For advice from Lieberman and three other journalists on the front lines on what needs to be covered next and how to approach this complex topic, see this special tip sheet.

NYT’s Schwarz discusses football concussion beat

For the Columbia Journalism Review, Brent Cunningham talked to The New York Times‘ Alan Schwarz about his work as the nation’s leading (and probably only) full-time football head injury reporter. Schwarz, whose work covering concussions brought him to the Times in 2007, talks about how he got started on the beat and how his work has impacted the sport as a whole.

It’s all interesting stuff, especially when he discusses how his background in mathematics has helped him report on sports injuries and medicine, but the real payoff comes when Cunningham finally  gets Schwarz to divulge his personal stance on concussions in youth football. It’s a crystallization of all Schwarz has learned, as well as a delicate balancing act between his personal and professional ethics.

high school tackle

Photo by Eagle102.net via Flickr

CJR: Let’s assume for a minute that your son, who you said is three years old, is actually ten years old and he is clamoring to play Pop Warner football. Would the fact that you would then have to decide disqualify you from covering the story?

Schwarz: No, it wouldn’t disqualify me, though of course that’s up to my editors. But there is something about working here—and I’m not saying we’re better than everyone else, blah, blah, blah—but there is something that really inspires you to do the right thing, and to do the thing that helps you to cultivate the trust that allows readers to take you seriously. So I would probably let him play because if I didn’t it would compromise the reporting. It would compromise the trust that others and even the league may have in me. Now, I would not send him out to slaughter, but getting one concussion is not that big of a deal—it just isn’t. And to suggest otherwise is incredibly irresponsible. So if my kid gets one concussion then yeah, he doesn’t play anymore probably. But to not allow him on the field is, frankly, an overreaction. And if I didn’t allow him to play then yeah, it would be harder to cover the story, if only in my own mind. I believe that the cost to others of my not being able to cover this story as well would be greater than the cost of my kid getting one concussion and never playing again. I’m a very mathematical guy. I follow certain precepts. And those are the things that make sense to me. And I can’t tell my kid he can’t play, because then what am I going to tell the league? What am I going to tell my editors? It doesn’t work. It’s dissonant.


Lieberman: Work got better with blogging

Heath Meriwether of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Write Stuff blog interviewed AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman about her transition from print outlets (including the Detroit Free Press and Consumer Reports) to blogging on cjr.org.



Lieberman said that once she made the jump to blogs and embraced the new format, her “work only got better.” She let loose and relied on her experience and reporting skills to “cut through the BS and be totally honest.”

The discussion includes a number of technical writing tips for bloggers, as well as a stern reminder that blog posts must be reported just as exhaustively as any other sort of journalism.

CJR: BPA truth lies in the middle

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Sanhita Reddy reviews a recent STATS critique of media coverage regarding Bisphenol A and the dangers it may hold. According to Reddy, both STATS and outlets like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel have taken overly extreme positions in the debate. While science hasn’t quite figured out the truth yet, Reddy says, it probably lies somewhere toward the center.

In an even-handed critique, Reddy disputes STATS’ attacks on popular anti-BPA source Frederick vom Saal’s credentials, but agrees that the media has been overly reliant on the University of Missouri scientist. Reddy also points out the fine line between placing more importance upon larger-scale, more valid studies (many of which are industry-sponsored) and identifying the conflicts of interest which may or may not exist alongside those industry connections.

In the end Reddy concluded that the conflict was a confusing one, but that as long as they brought a healthy dose of skepticism and took an extra look at the methods and materials sections of the research they were consulting, reporters should be able to give it fair coverage.