Quality of Health Care Journalism Being Eroded?

New Report and Survey Examine State of Health Care Journalism

A survey of members of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), conducted in partnership with AHCJ, and the report, The State of Health Journalism in the U.S., authored by Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, detail how the financial pressures on the media industry and the fierce competition to break news on new and expanding platforms on the Internet are affecting the quality of health reporting.

The difficulties cited in the reports have caused many in the industry to worry about the loss of in-depth, detailed reporting and the influence of public relations and advertising that could color news content. The turmoil in the news business is affecting all beats in journalism, not just health. Indeed, although AHCJ members report facing many difficulties in the current climate, they are more optimistic about the future of health journalism in particular than they are about journalism in general.

Key findings from the survey of AHCJ members include:

  • Ninety-four percent of survey respondents say the bottom line pressure in media organizations is seriously hurting the quality of news coverage of health care issues;
  • Forty percent of staff reporters in the survey say the number of health reporters at their organization has gone down since they’ve been there, and 11% of respondents say they personally have been laid off over the past few years due to downsizing. Thirty-nine percent of respondents who are still in the business believe it is at least somewhat likely that their position will be eliminated in the next few years.
  • But while only 24% of respondents think journalism in general is going in the right direction in this country, they are more evenly split about the future of health journalism in particular (52% say right direction, 48% say wrong).
  • Nearly nine in ten (88%) survey respondents think health care coverage leans too much toward short “quick hit” stories, and two-thirds (64%) say the trend toward shorter stories has gotten worse in the past few years.
  • A majority of respondents (52%) say there is too much coverage of consumer or lifestyle health, and 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 (34%) or frequently (10%) bases stories on news releases without substantial additional reporting.
  • About one in 10 staff journalists in the survey (11%) say his or her own organization sometimes or frequently allows advertisers, sales staff or sponsors to influence story selection or content and more than a quarter of respondents (28%) say they personally get story ideas from public relations firms or marketing outreach somewhat or very often.



State of Health Journalism in the U.S. March 2009

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