Health news can be hard to cover. Journals and universities spew out press releases every week touting the importance of new findings. Many are not newsworthy, but the findings are presented in technical terms that can be meaningless to the uninitiated. Then your editor comes over waving a press release or a story from the wire services or xCitnmednews.com or The New York Times. Then the dreaded question — Why didn’t we have this?
So, get initiated. A few small steps can bring your reporting to a new level .The reinvigorated Health News Review spells them out and will help you answer that editor’s question. Read their tips and put them into practice. Like — don’t regurgitate the press release as a way of getting past your failure to understand the science. And don’t believe that self-defeating bullshit about how reporters are afraid of math.
Here, HNR points us to a little self-examination on the part of a BBC reporter who covered the bad-luck and cancer story.
The paper’s bottom line wasn’t simple, but the message for me was: Science is complicated, and people care deeply about the biology of diseases that affect their loved ones and themselves. Distilling the story—with space constraints, with a desire for clear writing that will hold readers’ attention and help them understand—carries risks for scientists and for journalists. They are ones I hope never to forget—even if I err now and again.