The Association of Health Care Journalists and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey and found that only 1 percent of reporters covering health thought that coverage of health in the media was “excellent.” A majority – 51 percent – said that coverage was fair, 34 percent said it was good, while 14 percent rated it as poor. The situation doesn’t look promising as respondents argued that they are getting fewer resources than ever before, and are expected to produce more material in less time. Still, reporters appeared divided as to whether health care journalism in the U.S. is going in the wrong direction – 52 percent said it was going in the right direction, and 67 percent said it was going in the right direction at their organization. In other words, the problem is worse if you look at someone else’s back yard.
The inconsistencies in the results suggest that what is needed to truly answer these questions is a study which tallied the accuracy of health coverage with reporters’ self-evaluations of their accuracy. Indeed, the critical question raised by this study is how these changes in journalism are affecting the quality of reporting. The survey suggested that reporters acknowledged one of STATS major gripes, churning articles out of press releases without due regard to what the study actually says or what experts think of its conclusions:
Nearly nine out of ten (88%) say the media’s coverage of health care leans too much toward short stories and quick hits; and two-thirds (64%) say the situation in that regard has gotten worse in the past few years. Perhaps as a consequence of the time crunch, just under half (44%) of respondents say their organization sometimes (34%) or frequently (10%) reports stories based on news releases without substantial additional reporting (56% say that rarely or never happens).
89 percent said that “time to research” is one of the top two important elements to high quality reporting, but 53 percent said that this had suffered in the past few years. Remarkably, the one area where health reporters think they’re doing a reasonable job – covering medical research (only 12 percent say that media coverage is poor) – is the area where STATS finds the most concern in terms of statistical and scientific analysis.
Indeed, the study suggests that reporters are more concerned about other health issues, such as health disparities and health care politics, which means that attempts to get more and better quantitative reasoning into the news coverage are unlikely to happen anytime soon. The statistics about health care reporting, in other words, are becoming even scarier than they were when they only applied to the medical studies.