Journalists use stories — not reports — to tell the public about global health issues

Journalists use stories — not reports — to tell the public about global health issues.  That’s what panelists in today’s session on Journalism, New Media and Global Health were told to keep that in mind when they approach and pitch stories to reporters.

“The final issue is making the reader care,” said Joanne Silberner, a University of Washington communications department artist in residence and National Public Radio reporter, at Tuesday’s session on Journalism, New Media and Global Health.

“We have a mantra in our office: ‘It’s the readers, stupid,’ ” said Richard Kipling, managing editor of the Center for Health Reporting at the University of Southern California.

Stories about people — patients and medical workers — catch readers’ interests. “The real human being is important,” Silberner said.

The panelists said health coverage — let alone global health coverage — gets little attention among newspapers that have been drastically trimming their staffs. Health coverage is a lower priority than other types of stories.

Three of Tuesday’s panelists represented ventures trying to fill gaps in coverage of global health. 

The Center for Health Reporting is a collaboration between the California Health Care Foundation and USC’s journalism school.  That center decided that it could cover global health by collaborating with California papers — especially ones with small staffs that don’t have resources to tell such stories — to cover California’s migrant and immigrant communities.

“It struck me that global health is really also over here. … You just step out your door and you’re in the global health environment,” Kipling said.

The center has collaborated on a dozen projects in the past two years.

The University of Washington’s communications department recently offered its first-ever global health reporting class with the help of the university’s global health department.   

Jim Simon, assistant managing editor of The Seattle Times and the course’s instructor, wondered how he would teach the class until he decided to concentrate on Seattle area immigrant and refugee health issues.

His students found one of the nation’s few leprosy clinics at a local hospital; African women being shunned more in the United States for having AIDS than in their homelands where the disease is common; women from east Africa women dogging local metal health outreach efforts until it was linked in with a massage program.

The panelists told the audience that story pitches to news organizations should stress a good local story that can be linked to a global health matter — rather than the other way around.  They also said mental health — locally and abroad — is a very under-covered topic.  

People pitching stories should not be afraid of controversy, said Tom Paulson, host of Humanosphere, which is a National Public Radio and Pacific Lutheran University global health blog. 

Controversy draws readers to a global health topic, he said. “There are lots of fights, lots of arguments, lots of controversy. It’s a human endeavor,” Paulson said.

Prepared by John Stang

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