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The Failing Health of Healthcare Journalism

HCJWe were disappointed with Frontline’s “Sick Around America” because it provided a very limited, biased view  of the current conversation about how to deal with our healthcare crisis.

As such it provides a good example of the declining state of healthcare journalism and the critical need for in-depth, reliable reporting.

We’ve talked about the media’s poor coverage of health care policy and health topics before: click here and here.

So what is happening to news coverage of health care in the United States:

A recently released Kaiser Family Foundation report titled “The State of Health Journalism in the U.S.” documents the grim reality facing healthcare news. The report was written by Professor Gary Schwitzer of the HealthNewsReview.org.  The report is based on a literature review of over 100 published health news pieces, as well as on a survey of members of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

As newspapers scale back their operations, less time and resources are devoted to investigating healthcare policy in-depth. The number of reporters hired to cover the health beat is decreasing, and reporters are increasingly encouraged to write “quick hit” stories rather than produce well-researched investigations.

  • 94% of survey respondents said the bottom line pressure in media organizations is seriously hurting the quality of news coverage of health care issues;

  • A majority of respondents (52%) say there is too much coverage of consumer or lifestyle health,

    • too little of health policy (70%), health care quality (70%), and health disparities (69%).

  • Just under half (44%) of staff journalists participating in the survey say that their organization sometimes (33%) or frequently (10%) bases stories on news releases without further research.

You can read the full report here

Online medical news may be the answer for the innocent reader who is just trying to figure out health care. Mr. Schwitzer and the other authors do hold high hopes for the future of this medium. They believe that online articles can go much deeper in scope than traditional stories, and they can include links to additional resources.

The report cites PBS’s Frontline website as an example, since the site allows visitors to watch the original feature, as well as read the transcript and access related articles and interviews.

We agree that Frontline’s “Sick Around America” did do a good job of highlighting the major problems with our healthcare system.  But the segment left out critical discussion of solutions, such as the public insurance and single-payer options, for example.

We are glad that PBS posted an online forum for viewers to air their grievances, and we hope that PBS will pay attention to its viewers.

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