Tools for Journalists
Knowledge Translation in Action
OpEds, sometimes also called ‘commentaries,’ are generally provocative, sharp and precise. Following the basic rules of commentary writing is paramount for getting your submission published in the leading media outlets. It will also help sharpen your argument and develop the narrative that will leave a lasting impression with readers.
Every day, they help to shape our world. We nod our heads in agreement, or rage at their stupidity. They move the needle on public opinion, provide a handy pool of experts for radio hosts, inspire armchair pundits — even influence politicians. By Shari Graydon, Canadian Women’s Foundation blog
Journalists are often on tight deadlines and are not subject matter experts on every topic they cover — nor should we expect them to be. They often do not have time to adequately research all sides of an issue before deadline. A backgrounder helps a journalist frame the issue and provide the key facts and context so that the journalist can do their job properly: ask informed questions of the right people in a timely manner.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Canadians living with obesity over the past few decades, and it is often cited as a risk factor for other chronic health conditions — which means obesity is frequently in the news. So, what should journalists know before covering the topic?
Images were provided courtesy of ObesityNetwork.ca
Five things every journalist should know about the relationship between poverty and health in Canada
Over three million Canadians struggle to make ends meet — and what may surprise many is the devastating influence poor income, education and occupation can have on our health. Research shows the old adage, the “wealthier are healthier,” holds true, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared poverty the single largest determinant of health.
Every week a new study on autism seems to surface, and too often, there are errors or critical omissions in some of the media coverage on the topic.
Five things journalists should keep in mind when writing about autism
(from Autism Canada)
Too often well-meaning journalists get it wrong when they write about autism. It’s not so much the content of their stories that misses the mark as the language they use to describe autism itself. It can be easy to unintentionally offend — or worse, misrepresent — the autism community you are meant to be describing.
Une nouvelle étude sur l’autisme semble être publiée chaque semaine, et trop souvent, on retrouve des erreurs ou d’importantes lacunes dans la couverture médiatique.
As the largest information clearing house about eating disorders and related issues, the National Eating Disorders Association recognizes that the media is one of our most important allies in the effort to raise awareness about the dangers of eating disorders. For this reason, they strive to work with the media to produce accurate, insightful and informative pieces that will resonate with the public.
A web site for science writers and the public with definitions of terms and brief overviews of how things work in the world of oncology research.
Resources by Journalists for Journalists
The excitement around immunotherapy is understandable–for a small number of people, they work. These powerful patient stories often overshadow the reality that for most people, they aren’t very effective and carry significant drawbacks.
Drawing upon several of our reviews on this topic, we’ve put together the following tips to help journalists balance out their coverage on these drugs:
Reporting in Indigenous communities can be tough. It’s not just navigating sensitive issues like those surrounding MMIW stories, but covering complex terrain in stories that include the Indian Act, treaties and land claims to name a few. It’s not always easy to get it right.
- The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) offers a wide range of resources and material that are essential for health journalists including the Core Topic: Social Determinants/Disparities. The website is rich in examples of Key Concepts, how reporters have compellingly covered these issues (How I Did It), Resource Links, Webcasts/Audio/Video and other resources — many of which are available exclusively to members.
- Veteran health care journalist Trudy Lieberman says that she’s long observed that U.S. health reporters are reluctant to reach out globally to inform their reporting. She points out that the health stories we’re asked to report are the same ones our counterparts abroad are writing and that this “reportorial parochialism results in poor understanding of foreign health care and makes it easy to report misleading or false claims because we have no knowledge to judge their correctness or to give context so audiences can judge for themselves.”
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is Canada’s national alliance of professional science communicators whose mandate is to cultivate excellence in science writing and increase public awareness of science in Canadian culture.
“Have a question on the healthcare beat? This group of international journalists can help” by Trudy Lieberman published in Columbia Journalism Review.
The Committee of Concerned Journalists is a consortium of journalists, publishers, owners and academics worried about the future of the profession.
The European Health Journalism site offers key resources for health journalists and links to relevant international organizations. The site contains free access to all of the presentations and discussions from the First Do No Harm international conference on health journalism and PR, held in May in Coventry. The presentations and summaries are organized in themes and are a great resource for all journalists and PRs working in health.
The NEW e-book on Health Journalism, First Do No Harm, edited by John Lister, with over 300 pages, 21 chapters, dozens of links and an extensive bibliography, is now on sale.
To purchase online from Libri Publishing, click here
Ivan Oransky, executive editor at Reuters Health and treasurer of the Association of health Care Journalists, examines the tricky issues of journalistic balance and how journalists can choose their sources to avoid “he-said-she-said” journalism.
John Lister (from Coventry University in the UK) visited EvidenceNetwork.ca in May, 2013. He presented a webinar: “What we’ve learned: Working with journalists across Europe on health reporting” (audio version also available). Also see Dr. Lister’s Infographic (developed by Lindsay Jolivet): “Top 10 Questions for health policy journalists” (available in English and French).
The Science Media Centre of Canada is an independent, not-for-profit charitable organization that exists to raise the level of public discourse on science in Canada by helping journalists access the experts and evidence-based research they need to cover science in the news. The SMCC is supported by over 120 Charter Members and ongoing support from our patron organizations. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Web-Based Resources for Journalists
Myths and misunderstandings about opioids run rampant in our society. The goal of this primer is to provide journalists with important facts regarding opioid use and addiction, and guidelines for reporting on these topics in ways that encourage understanding and promote healthier people and communities. This resource was developed by the Opioid Resource Hub located in the Provincial System Support Program (PSSP) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in collaboration with the Provincial Opioid Education Working Group media subgroup.
Femifesto is a Toronto-based, grassroots collective that aims to shift rape culture to consent culture.
The media and access issues: content analysis of Canadian newspaper coverage of health policy decisions by Christen Rachul and Timothy Caulfield.
Previous studies have demonstrated how the media has an influence on policy decisions and healthcare coverage. Studies of Canadian media have shown that news coverage often emphasizes and hypes certain aspects of high profile health debates. We hypothesized that in Canadian media coverage of access to healthcare issues about therapies and technologies including for rare diseases, the media would be largely sympathetic towards patients, thus adding to public debate that largely favors increased access to healthcare—even in the face of equivocal evidence regarding efficacy.
Research by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy shows the loaded words used to describe drug addiction, such as “clean” vs. “dirty,” can actually drive people away from getting help, The Huffington Post reported in March.
A guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.
A group of Canadian journalists has produced a field guide to mental health reporting, to assist health reporters and general assignment reporters who have to tackle complex stories like people who kill during a psychotic episode. Mindset is part of a project created by the Canadian journalists for journalists.
A team of reviewers from HealthNewsReview.org, many of whom were physicians, evaluated the reporting by US news organizations on new medical treatments, tests, products, and procedures. The findings can help journalists improve their news stories and help physicians and the public better understand the strengths and weaknesses of news media coverage of medical and health topics.
The goal of the Science Manual is to provide judges with tools to better understand expert evidence and to assess the validity of purportedly scientific evidence presented to them. While written for judges, journalists may find this useful for weighing and reviewing evidence used to support different issues.
US datasets for data journalism are now available at The ProPublica Data Store. The raw data they received as the result of a FOIA request is available for free, and datasets that reflect substantial cleaning and processing are available for a one-time fee. Journalists and academic researchers can purchase the premium datasets by clicking the “Purchase” button.
Nate Silver spoke at the Online News Association conference and offered eight points that journalists should know if they use statistics.
Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims by William J. Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter & Mark Burgman
The authors presented the twenty tips in Nature to help non-scientists interrogate advisers and to grasp the limitations of evidence.
For individuals with an interest in health care and how to use health information, this resource provides an introduction to health indicators, what they are, where they come from, and how they can influence health care decisions and policies.
The Canadian Cochrane Centre (CCC) is one of 14 global, independent, not-for-profit Centres of The Cochrane Collaboration. Founded in 1993, The Cochrane Collaboration is the largest global network of scientists, researchers, health policy-makers and consumer advocates involved in the production of systematic reviews (Cochrane Reviews) of health care evidence. Some 28,000 individuals in over 100 countries willingly contribute their time and expertise to a rigorous process of gathering, assessing, and synthesising published research on the effectiveness of health care interventions. The results are then shared with practitioners, policy-makers and patients to help them make informed and effective choices. Cochrane Reviews are published in The Cochrane Library, in English with a growing selection available in other languages. Additional information and access to The Cochrane Library are available at cochrane.org. Visit the website regularly for list updates and other health treatment information.
Visit Cochrane Canada’s recent publication Where’s the Evidence? A Top Ten List of Cochrane Reviews, released in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This list addresses some common assumptions about health treatments such as whether or not vitamin C helps fight a cold or if reducing salt really lowers risk of heart disease.
Health Evidence is a Canadian service and research organization located at McMaster University, Hamilton, aimed at assisting public health decision makers in their use of research evidence. Health Evidence offers a suite of services to support the development of knowledge, skill and culture for evidence-informed decision making. Launched in 2005, a key resource, the www.health-evidence.ca registry of systematic reviews, provides free, user-friendly access to a searchable database of public health relevant, quality-appraised reviews.
A group focused on improving the accuracy of news stories about medical treatments, tests, products and procedures. Funding is provided by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making. See their Toolkit which includes Tips for Understanding Studies.
The Manitoba Centre for Health Policy is a research unit in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine. MCHP and its research scientists study the health of populations, specifically those in Manitoba. Its many resources and summaries have been useful in providing journalists with information in a clear and concise language.
PharmaceuticalPolicy.ca is a publicly-funded website maintained by the Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration (PPRC), a network of university-based experts in pharmaceutical policy who are committed to making quality evidence on policy issues readily accessible to those who need it. PharmaceuticalPolicy.ca features pharmaceutical policy research and news items of interest to Canadians. It also lists contact information for acknowledged experts who are able to speak on a wide variety of pharmaceutical policy topics.
Resources for Researchers Working with Journalists
One of the main focuses at Sense About Science USA involves providing resources and media workshops for graduate students, post-docs, and early career scientists to help them better bridge the communication gaps between science and the general public.
The University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research compiled a list of tips for researchers on working with journalists. The tips ranged from how to respond to an interview request to how to share your research with the media.