Monday, November 5, 2007

It’s our turn: Putting health reporters on the hot seat

The tables were turned today as top D.C. reporters gave public health professionals the opportunity to ask them questions for once. The lively Q&A was a central component of Monday's session, “Communicating Your Public Health News Through the News Media.”

The panel of journalists featured Nancy Shute, senior writer with U.S. News & World Report; Julie Rovner, health reporter for NPR; Scott Falk, managing editor for BNA’s Health Care Information Division; and Susan Levine, health care reporter with the Washington Post.

A key theme that emerged in each of the panelist’s remarks was that their jobs have gotten harder over the years. The panel was not shy about giving the audience an insider’s view to the fact that media outlets are in a state of flux with the advent of the digital age. They pointed out that more than 12,000 journalists have been laid off in recent years as outlets trim staff to meet budget crunches.

These trends laid the foundation for much of the panel’s advice. With journalists busier than ever but still very interested getting our stories out to the public, here are a few tips offered by the panel for public health workers:

Pick the right reporter and the right story. Levine says she gets 250 e-mails a day. If your subject line doesn’t fit with what the reporter covers or isn’t attention-grabbing, it is not getting opened.

Be sure the topic is relevant to the outlet. Look at previous stories that news outlet has done — does your issue fit in with what they cover? Do your research and you won’t waste their time or yours.

Give reporters access to the experts and authority figures. Be sure that your researchers and executives are available and accessible. Reporters want to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth.

Don’t ignore reporter requests. This advice is especially important with a controversial topic or a potential crisis. Most reporters aren’t out to get you and want to give you a chance to tell your side of the story. If you don’t return their calls and the story goes out without your information, you’ll be stuck playing defense.

Get to know your local reporters and teach them about public health. The panel admitted that public health isn’t always easy to “get.” They suggested taking time to educate reporters and get to know them in the process.

— B.L.


Roy said...

Before you leave you really should head over to the exhibit hall and check out Readymom's booth #362,for Pandemic preparedness. It is an eye opener. They are a couple of Mom's who are trying to educate the public to Pandemic preparedness... this is how they began...

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