Medical Journalism

Medical Journalism: Separating Facts From Fiction

Medical Journalism has been largely ignored in the past, especially in developing nations such as India, but its immense impact on general public at large cannot be denied. Medical journalism can be defined as the promulgation of health and medical related topics and information through mass media. Good medical journalism is about covering scientific issues based on facts and avoiding misleading and speculative coverage. Articles written in medical journals by scientists for publications are not considered a part of medical journalism. Common health related topics covered in medical journalism include new methods for diagnosis and treatment, health risks related to organisations and funding of health care. Medical Journalism targets the public at large rather than specific professional groups within the clinical profession or health administration.

Most journalists subscribe to professional ideas while readers expect the stories to be true and significant. This distinguishes journalism from the world of advertising, fiction and show business. The public is getting used to seeing entertainment and advertising masquerade as journalism while also witnessing the proliferation of infomercials (ads that purport to be informative). Although advertising, fiction and showbiz can be a thrilling experience for the audience, good medical journalists offer their readers much more than just thrill. While narrating good stories, they also manage to weigh the information they receive, separate fact from fiction and serve their audience with probing, critical journalism.

A good medical journalist can be provocative, thrilling and entertaining, all at the same time while still getting the facts right.
The pressure inherent in running Media Corporations does not always allow the reporters to be as critical as they might aspire to be. However, asking critical questions and avoiding some of the worst hazards is a good beginning. When journalists accept the challenges of not only reporting what experts say but also questioning what they say, they take a necessary step towards more critical medical reporting. It is ‘diversity’ makes medical reporting so intriguing to a medical journalist. Reporting on events ranging from scientific advances and setbacks to fraud and misconduct, from health risks to health population, from euthanasia to prevention programs, from population statistics to individuals, from scientific theories to clinical outcomes, from patients’ rights to professional concerns and from public demand to scarce resources makes medical journalism an extraordinarily complex and fascinating field.

Medical reporting helps inform readers about how to live longer and healthier lives, how to avoid unnecessary suffering and how to use resources as wisely as possible.

Story writers, reporters and editors are required by all media agencies, be it newspapers, medical press, radio, television, online news services, medical and scientific websites, consumer magazines etc. Medical journalism offers a promising career prospective as skilled medical journalists are less and hard to find.

What does the industry look for? Although possessing a medical academic background with some research experience and knowledge of scientific media is preferred, but elsewhere, any science degree might serve the purpose. When writing for a non-scientific audience; innovative ideas, good general knowledge skills, ability of grasping new concepts quickly and curiosity for learning are more important. It is important for a journalist to engage his audience right from the title to the last line of his publication. Core writing and perspicuous skills are important not only in medical journalism but in any form of journalism. A journalist should always keep in mind that he/she is narrating a story and not merely setting down facts. It is important to identify the interests of your audience, analyze your own writing and rate your article as a reader – How interesting you found the article to be? Was it able to engross you completely? are some questions you can ask yourself. Medical journalism should not be glamorized; the main objective must be to provide the reader with a good, balanced and clear view of the issue being reported.

If you wish to make medical journalism a career, James Lind Institute offers two courses in Medical Journalism which will equip you with basic writing skills and core knowledge of medical journalism. Advanced Post Graduate Diploma in Scientific Writing & Medical Journalism; and Professional Diploma in Medical Journalism both help you in understanding the basics of science journalism.

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