Study We Didn’t Make Up: Health Reporters Are Better Journalists

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REUTERS/Carlos Barria

We don’t like to toot our own horn over here at Healthland, but we’d be remiss not to bring you the latest in public-health research. According to a five-year University of Toronto review of Australian newspapers, health journalists write clearer, more informed medical stories than their general assignment peers.

OK, so it’s not surprising that health journalists are better at writing about health, but still. It’s not every day that we’re the subject of international attention. Mostly you’ll find us poring over medical journals, as our glamorous colleagues get to hang with celebrity chefs and go backstage with Fashion Week models.

Rating highest of all were specialist health reporters — those who wrote specifically about cancer or women’s health, for example — who also worked full time for a single news organization.

The research group defined 10 criteria for a high-quality health article, including: reporting on what’s new about treatment or intervention, avoiding “elements of disease mongering,” consulting independent experts and not relying heavily on press releases (full disclosure: this story was inspired by a press release).

“Media coverage of new treatments is important and must be accurate,” wrote Dr. David Henry, the co-author of the study and CEO of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. “The public rely on this and health professionals may hear about them for the first time from the media.”

The real point of the findings is that journalists do better when they can dig deep and specialize in a field, and when they have the luxury of a steady job. The new study worried about the long-term employment options of highly specialized journalists, as news organizations downsize and restructure.

Join the club.