A Journalist’s Guide to Writing Health Stories
The print and electronic media have an enormous influence on how the public views health issues. Both health policymakers and scientists recognize journalists’ effect on public understanding. Reporting health stories requires judgment about how to interpret evidence and about the implications of evidence for the public. But most journalists have little formal training in assessing the validity of evidence that bears on health issues, so inaccurate or deceptive reporting seems common. To begin to address this problem, we have built on others’ work and developed a set of guidelines to help journalists understand and interpret health stories.
Many obstacles confront the health journalist, including limitations of time and space, editorial priorities, and the need to create stories that are compelling enough to warrant space in a publication. Our journalist’s guidelines will not help with those issues. However, even given other constraints, understanding principles of scientific inquiry into human health problems will help journalists to produce more informed articles.