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

September 21, 2010

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

Day Three Plenary: The Global Health Initiative

September 21, 2010

The room was packed for the first session of the second full day of the CUGH conference. The topic was something that affects every member of the audience – the President’s Global Health Initiative (GHI).  Five distinguished speakers each provided an interesting and distinct perspective on the GHI, which was announced last year.

Moderated by Michael Merson of the Duke Global Health Institute, the session began with a short filmed statement from Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, highlighted the administration’s commitment to the GHI and to the poor. Goosby stressed the need for individual countries to build solid health systems with supporting research and innovation that could save more lives and lower overall costs.

Kevin De Cock, Director of the Center for Global Health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized global health as one of the five priority areas for the CDC. He explained that the CDC strives for capacity, security and impact with the global health sector.

J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Commission for Smart Global Health Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reaffirmed that the GHI is indeed making progress with a high quality team. Morrison also discussed the difference in economic climates between two global health initiatives – PEPFAR and GHI. PEPFAR was launched at time when AIDS was a perceived emergency, budgets were more ample, and foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation were just emerging. Currently, there is a reduced perceived external threat of pandemic, an increased budget uncertainty, an unsustainable national deficit, and a fraying partisan legislature. However, despite these challenges, the GHI remains a priority with even more initiatives and goals than PEPFAR.

Two university experts on global health, Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program, Columbia University and Ann Downer, Executive Director, International Training and Education Center for Health, both addressed the role of education, research, and practice in global health. Downer was particularly interested in the role that universities could play in global health. With the long enduring model of the university, there is a history of innovation, discovery, and experimentation. Universities are also able to forge partnerships and address problems with a multidisciplinary approach.

Overall, the speakers were hopeful that through government aid, foundation funding, partnerships, and a sustained commitment, we will be able to successfully address the GHI key objectives in the coming years.

Prepared by Rachel Lonsdale

Vanessa Kerry talks about her commitment to global health and work at Mass General’s Center for Global Health

September 21, 2010

Interview by Chloe LeMarche of University of California-San Francisco

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