Tag Archives: journalists

AHCJ makes changes to membership rules

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The board of the Association of Health Care Journalists has amended the organization’s membership guidelines, completing a process first begun in early 2010. The adjustments are an effort to make membership rules more consistent and ensure AHCJ is first and foremost an organization of and for journalists.ahcj

The changes will have no effect on most current members, says board member Phil Galewitz, chair of the Membership Committee. Journalists working for publications of health companies or health advocacy organizations, however, will be shifted into the associate member category, if they are not already there, he said.

While AHCJ has long required that journalists from these organizations’ publications work independently of lobbying and public relations staffers, it has been increasingly difficult to judge their independence based on employer. This will allow them to continue taking advantage of most member benefits, including the electronic discussion list and website resources, but will exclude them from running for board positions or voting for board members.

Read more about the changes and review AHCJ’s membership categories. Learn more about AHCJ membership.

Catch up on the latest news about AHCJ members

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Members of AHCJ have been busy! Read about their latest accomplishments:

Ted Agres has become a senior editor at Health Affairs, overseeing the Policy Briefs.

Jeff Baillon, investigative reporter for KMSP-Minneapolis/St. Paul, received an upper Midwest regional Emmy award for an investigative project titled “Cover Your Assets.”

Antigone Barton received a Nieman Fellowship for Global Health Reporting. She will spend a year at Harvard, studying global health policy, and then she will spend four months in Africa, building collaborative reporting and accessible resources.

David Boddiger earned an Addiction Studies Program for Journalists 2010 Award for “Mexico Eager to Reduce Demand for Illicit Drugs,” published in The Lancet. The award is given by the Addiction Studies Program with The Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman of the Bay Area News Group in Northern California won the 2010 White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award for their four-part series “Shortened Lives: Where You Live Matters.” Read their account of how they reported the story.

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Doctor or journalist? Roles become blurred in Haiti

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

As aid flows to Haiti and the full scope of the disaster becomes clear, there is an interesting discussion happening among health journalists about the role of medical correspondents reporting from the scene of such disasters.

Physicians who work for television networks and have been sent to Haiti have been juggling their roles as doctors and reporters:

Footage of all of those correspondents treating patients has aired on their networks and Web sites, raising the question of whether “news organizations at some point appear to be capitalizing for promotional reasons on the intervention by journalists,” according to Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute.

Matea Gold, of the Los Angeles Times, reported on the topic and has thoughts from Steele, Snyderman, Besser and CNN’s president about the issue.

Gary Schwitzer, of the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, asks “Who teaches journalism ethics to physician-reporters?” and has “An examination of the ethics of MD-reporter involvement in Haiti.”

In an online chat today, three readers asked Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz about the medical and journalistic ethics of treating patients on camera. Kurtz responded that he has “mixed feelings” about it. Interestingly, on Kurtz’s CNN show, “Reliable Sources,” that aired on Sunday, he used a clip of Gupta examining the 15-day-old baby as an example of how the media is focusing on Haiti’s children but did not comment on the ethical issue of physician-journalists treating patients.

Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., a doctor who regularly writes for Salon.com, writes about Gupta taking responsibility for the patients who were left alone by the Belgian medical team:

Cynics may sneer that Gupta’s decision to stay was a self-promotional act intended to boost ratings and his profile, that his nobility was inspired more by the eye of the camera than the Hippocratic oath. But don’t count me among those skeptics; I believe those lives were, literally, in Gupta’s hands, and he responded.

Update

The Washington Post now has an article about reporters who double as doctors in Haiti that includes comments from the president of CBS News, who says “that competitive issues have factored in boosting Ashton’s role since Gupta became a star,” and from the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin’s journalism school, who cautions that such coverage can become self-promotional.

NEJM article critical of health reporting

In commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine, Susan Dentzer, the editor-in-chief of Health Affairs and an on-air analyst on health policy for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, takes journalists to task for not properly or fully reporting important health issues.

She starts out by praising some “seasoned reporters who perform thoughtfully even in the face of breaking news and tight deadlines.” But then admonishes the rest: “But all too frequently, what is conveyed about health by many other journalists is wrong or misleading.”

The problem, as she sees it, is that “some distortion is attributable to ignorance or an inability to interpret and convey the nuanced results of clinical studies. And some is due to uncertainty about journalists’ proper role: Is our job to describe the bigger picture, or simply to report what is new?”

She cites a few examples, such as the flap over the risks and benefits of the Vytorin cholesterol pill after clinical trial results were belatedly released by Schering-Plough, which sells the drug. “Some journalists asserted that (the trial) showed the drug had no benefits in preventing heart attacks and strokes – something it certainly did not show, since heart attacks and strokes were not end points in the trial. We will never know the cost of this misinformation in terms of panicked patients or physicians who, perhaps unnecessarily, discontinued use of the drug.”

In response, Trudy Lieberman, president of AHCJ’s board of directors, points out that journalists, particularly those on extremely tight deadlines, are often facing an uphill battle in understanding conveying complicated health issues. “Reporters often told me that they would like to write about gray areas and nuances, but their editors won’t let them because the editors are looking for something jazzy,” she tells Scientific American. “If the nuances are there, they’re jumped to the second page if they’re there at all.”

Dentzer makes some valid points, which are likely to come into greater relief as newspapers cut back on staffing and space for stories.

AHCJ unveils assistance for ‘downsized’ members

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Although AHCJ membership continued to increase this year as more journalists learned of its training opportunities and useful services, the group recognizes the strain under which the news media finds itself. The economic downturn has resulted in layoffs, buyouts and downsizings in several industries, including our own.

Money and questions - AHCJ announces Transition Assistance ProgramAHCJ’s board and staff believe it’s important to retain all the talented professionals who make up our membership. The tremendous AHCJ network built over the past decade is too valuable to all of us.

“It’s worrisome – and sometimes heartbreaking – to see great journalists leaving their paid staff positions for uncertain futures,” says Mike Stobbe, AHCJ’s membership chairman. “Some will probably struggle, at least for a little while, until they find their feet in new ventures.”

With that in mind, AHCJ is announcing a Transition Assistance Program to help members who are forced into a job change. Any current AHCJ member who is laid off or is required to take a buyout, is eligible for TAP.

Learn about TAP’s benefits and how you can apply.

Survey unmasks health, medical journalists

A new study attempts to answer two key questions about health and medical journalists in the United States – what is their general profile and, at a theoretical level, what occupational practices and factors influence the scope and type of coverage of health topics seen in the United States? The researchers, who were funded by the National Cancer Institute, surveyed 468 reporters and editors representing 463 local and national broadcast and print media outlets.

Faces of health journalists: Journalists attend a panel at Health Journalism 2007 in Los Angeles.

Faces of health journalists: Journalists attend a panel at Health Journalism 2007 in Los Angeles.

For those of you who attended Health Journalism 2006 in Houston, this might sound familiar; the lead author, K. “Vish” Viswanath, presented early findings at that conference.

So who are we? The study, published in the Journal of Health Communication, found that almost 70 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree; 19 percent have a master’s degree; 4.5 percent have a doctorate, including about 3 percent with an MD. Almost half of the respondents graduated with a degree in journalism and 13 percent with a degree in communications. Eight percent reported they were life sciences majors in college.

Other revealing facts: Minorities are severely underrepresented among those reporting on health and medical science in the United States. Almost 97 percent identified themselves as non-Hispanic and about 93 percent as white. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents were women. The average age of those surveyed was 44 and more than one-third had been working as journalists for more than 20 years, although not necessarily covering health the entire time.

Overall, initial story ideas come from a news source – and health care providers were the most relied upon source, especially among local reporters; while national reporters more often turned to researcher and scientists. Sources were followed by press conferences or press releases. When it comes to deciding newsworthiness, the “potential for public impact” and “new information or development” were cited nearly across the board, followed by “ability to provide a human angle” and “ability to provide a local angle.”

However, there were some significant differences seen between print and broadcast outlets. Journalists from broadcast media rely on story suggestions by sources (62.8 percent) or wire services (50 percent) more often than print reporters (47.9 percent and 37. percent, respectively). Print journalists have a more diverse range of ideas to initiate stories – while they rely on human sources, broadcast journalists were significantly more likely to report using scientific journals for their initial ideas (46 percent and 25 percent, respectively). Print journalists also rely more on government Web site.

Update: We heard from Viswanath, the study’s lead author. He summarized the findings:

The take away messages are three:

  1. Journalists work closely with sources to identify and develop health and  medicine stories. It is therefore important for sources to work with reporters and be sensitive to their needs.
  2. Only a small percentage of journalists  have majored in science in their undergrad programs
  3. Journalists desire training and appropriate tools to help them cover the stories better.