Posted by: rstewart1 | 02/25/2011

The future of global health journalism

Journalists are trained not to become part of the story but the journalism industry’s woes have been news for several years now.

With budgets slashed and staff laid off mainstream media coverage has changed dramatically.  Fewer stories get covered at all and those that do tend to be shorter and less in-depth or focused on “hyperlocal” issues.

Certain topics have been hit particularly hard, as seen in a new report for the Kaiser Family Foundation called Taking the Temperature: The Future of Global Health Journalism.  The report was written by John Donnelly and Nellie Bristol, both veteran reporters who’ve seen firsthand the enormous changes in journalism and global health coverage in recent years. Donnelly, a vice president and senior editor at Burness Communications, specializes in global health issues and ran the Boston Globe’s first Africa bureau.  Bristol is a longtime health policy reporter who now freelances for several global health publications.

Donnelly discussed the report at a meeting for communicators who work with Global Health Council member organizations.

He and Bristol spent six months interviewing a wide range of people: writers, editors and producers at mainstream media outlets, peer-reviewed journals, advocacy journalism outlets and journalism funders. What they found was sobering.  There’s a sense of fatigue or lack of interest among editors in health stories in developing countries; the closing of foreign bureaus and declining travel budgets leave fewer opportunities to pursue global health stories; and existing coverage tends to focus on disease-related disasters or outbreaks.

The report also looks at outside funding of journalism, particularly the Gates Foundation, and the rise of advocacy communications.  As coverage in mainstream media is scaled back organizations are developing their own broadcast footage and stories. Online-only news sites and social media are also playing a greater role in the global health journalism landscape.

The report raises several important questions, including: how does advocacy communications affect journalistic integrity? How does social media impact how global health is covered in mainstream media? What global health stories should be covered more?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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