Public Release:  U of Minnesota professor authors report the state of health care journalism

Kaiser Family Foundation releases report today

University of Minnesota

Just as President Obama is promising major health reform, huge cutbacks in the news business are creating new challenges for health journalists who are trying to report on those policy issues, according to the survey and report written by Gary Schwitzer, associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication. The report was released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation at a Washington, D.C. briefing.

A video interview with Schwitzer about the report can be viewed on the University News Service Web site here: http://www1.umn.edu/urelate/newsservice/Multimedia_Videos/kaiser_report.htm

"The news media is one of the most important sources of information the general public has about health policy," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, "so it's critical that our country continues to produce the best possible health journalism during this important period."

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 United States, written by Schwitzer, 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.

The full survey and report can be viewed online at http://kff.org/entmedia/mh031109pkg.cfm

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 percent 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.

  • Nearly nine in ten (88 percent) survey respondents think health care coverage leans too much toward short "quick hit" stories, and two-thirds (64 percent) say the trend toward shorter stories has gotten worse in the past few years.

  • A majority of respondents (52 percent) say there is too much coverage of consumer or lifestyle health, and too little of health policy (70 percent), health care quality (70 percent) and health disparities (69 percent).

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