In an ideal world, we wouldn’t experience any sort of work stress.
We could all take as much time as we needed to craft clever, unique stories that accurately reflected new medical research.
We could write stories that provided a range of perspectives, debated the relevant body of evidence and added a unique perspective.
Unfortunately, the world is less than ideal when it comes to health writing. The practice of pilfering bits of information from previously published content in order to craft a news story in a flash is rife (as is inaccurate reporting on health).
A client of mine recently found themselves in a situation where another publication used their article as a reference point to formulate a story. As a result, the author of my client’s article was actually represented as the study author.
The writer of the erroneous piece hadn’t checked the original clinical trial to verify the author details. And it got me thinking about some of the pitfalls of reporting on health news under pressure.
For some online writers, it’s too easy to read other news articles about health research or a medical breakthrough and then formulate a story. Some writers don’t even read the original abstract, let alone the full study.
While an incorrect author name doesn’t seem like a big deal, factually incorrect and inaccurate health reporting has the potential to do a lot of damage – particularly with the rise of the public’s “Dr Google can fix it” mentality.
With that in mind, here’s a checklist of things I remind myself to do every time I’m reporting on health news under pressure. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but it helps me to stay focused and give me direction and clarity.
7 tips for reporting on health under pressure
- Double check crucial study details including journal title, author details, location and affiliations – check PubMed and the official journal website. Think about how you can accurately refer to the authors if they’re from different locations.
- Consider how new research is placed within the context of the body of evidence – have a look at what past studies showed to try and add some perspective or depth to your story
- Write an original piece based on the outcomes of the study – try and avoid reading what other people have already written about the research in case it influences you
- Speak to an expert if time permits – contact the study author, health professional or key opinion leader
- Include statistics or quotes from key organisations if relevant – cancer councils, disease associations and government health organisations have relevant vital statistics that can enhance a story
- Don’t use another writer’s work as the primary source – read the full original study
- If you must refer to the work of someone else, credit them in-text – you can write “according to a report published in xxx” but it doesn’t always work well, only use it as a last resort
How do you manage when you’re reporting on health under pressure?