Late last year, the Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor ran a series of stories in which reporter Meg Heckman used her own struggles with hepatitis C as a lens through which to examine the nation’s epidemic. Now, she’s shared the lessons she learned during her effort as both reporter and source in a Poynter article. If you’re not familiar with the story, I recommend taking three minutes to review the the video piece that accompanied the story. The final 90 seconds, in particular, really get to the heart of Heckman’s internal conflict.
The lessons Heckman took from the experience include the vulnerability of becoming a news source, the importance of structuring your story both for web and print, and the ins and outs of researching (and then exposing) your own personal and medical life.
As the gulf oil spill dragged on, coverage of its psychological and economic aftermath gained momentum. Now, Poynter’s Al Tompkins has spotlighted coverage of what is sure to be a flood of follow-up reports and post-mortems. Based on research conducted from July 19 through 25 (the well has been effectively capped since July 15), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University has released its “Impact on Children and Families of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” subtitled “Preliminary Findings of the Coastal Population Impact Study.”
As Tompkins points out, the study has already pulled in significant media coverage. Shaila Dewan’s story in The New York Times, for example, covered both specifics and context:
“There’s been a very overt effort by BP and the Coast Guard to project a sense that the crisis is over, but this is far from the case,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the center and president of the Children’s Health Fund, a sponsor of the survey. “Our survey shows a persistent and overwhelming level of anxiety among families living near the coast, driven by both medical symptoms in their children as well as a substantial level of psychological stress.”
The survey included 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, most of whom live within 10 miles of the ocean.
One in five reported that their household income had dropped since the spill. Forty-three percent said they had been directly exposed to oil, either at beaches, on their property or in helping with the cleanup. Those who had been exposed were more than twice as likely to report that their children had developed physical or mental health problems since the spill. Also, families that had more concerns about their children’s mental health were more likely to report that they are considering moving.
According to the review, “Most of these poisonings occurred among children and elderly persons and resulted from exposures in idling automobiles with exhaust pipes blocked by snow.” During one two-day stretch, 21 people who had been found unconscious in running cars were brought to the Jacobi Medical Center in New York. In that spirit, the investigators look at the individual cases of a 4-year-old girl (left in the car because her family thought she was napping), and two older men. In all cases, their primary mistake seems to have been in starting cars surrounded by deep snow without making any attempt to remove the snow first.
A review of studies related to 1978 storm in New England found that, during the blizzard, mortality rates didn’t increase significantly (though a third of the deaths that did happen were classified as storm-related), and that emergency room visits declined to less than half their normal levels. Hospitals also had supply problems because they could not discharge patients.
To solve these problems, the authors recommend that officials ask folks not to drive during storms (and to bring emergency supplies if they do), and to create a “rumor clearinghouse” to investigate reported hazards and outbreaks. They also suggest that overcrowded hospitals can use emergency vehicles to bring discharged patients home.
Most of the 44 patients studied were members of ethnic minority groups, and half didn’t speak English. In 65 percent of the cases, the cause was burning charcoal briquettes. All those incidents, the study noted, involved racial/ethnic minorities.
At the same time, Painter reports, overall fall rates don’t seem to budge to much in the winter, perhaps because folks are more likely to stay inside rather than risk icy steps and walkways. Painter says the increased fracture rates could be because of icy streets, weaker muscles as a result of winter inactivity and even lower vitamin D levels, which have been linked to weak muscles and brittle bones.
AHCJ’s Aging in the 21st Century workshop, held Oct. 16 and 17 in Miami, addressed the changing picture of aging Americans and key research and issues related to this growing population. Tip sheets and presentations from that workshop are available to AHCJ members, as are these related tip sheets:
Check out AHCJ’s latest volume in its ongoing Slim Guide series. This reporting guide gives a head start to journalists who want to pursue stories about one of the most vulnerable populations – nursing home residents. It offers advice about Web sites, datasets, research and other resources. After reading this book, journalists can have more confidence in deciphering nursing home inspection reports, interviewing advocacy groups on all sides of an issue, locating key data, and more. The book includes story examples and ideas.
AHCJ publishes these reporting guides, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to help journalists understand and accurately report on specific subjects.