Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

TV Doctor/Reporters Cause Ethical Rumblings, but the Fault Line is Health Illiteracy

January 22, 2010

By Kate Johnson

The earthquake in Haiti has delivered a different sort of seismic upheaval in the fields of both medicine and journalism, as professionals in both camps debate the ethics in the niche zone where their respective crafts overlap. Television MDs like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Richard Besser have helped deliver babies and stitch up injuries with the cameras rolling, creating rumblings and debates about the blurring of journalistic and medical boundaries.

With journalistic clarity, The Society of Professional Journalists issued an unambiguous scolding: “Advocacy, self promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said in a statement.

Characteristically, the American Medical Association was less specific and more cautious in urging restraint: “The spontaneous volunteer has no place in disaster response,” asserted James J. James, MD, DrPH, MHA, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, at an American Medical Association (AMA) webinar.

But still, the television networks -– including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN –- are milking the coverage of their physician reporters for all it’s worth.

Continue reading

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Medical Journalists – Where are They (We) Going?

January 8, 2010

By Kate Johnson

It’s cold and snowy in Montreal and the other day, as I was skiing down a crusty slope, icy crystals stinging my eyeballs, I closed my eyes. I couldn’t help it. When sharp objects fly into your cornea, your lashes instinctively close – even if you are hurtling down an icy hill at top speed. I could have had a catastrophic crash (such things do happen in the blink of an eye), but I followed my blind instinct, and everything was fine. And even before my eyes had re-opened I realized, that this is what I – and many other journalists are doing right now, everyday, in our careers.

Winter has descended on the age-old profession of journalism, changing the landscape so drastically that all the landmarks are gone. Little remains of the theories and ground rules I studied for my journalism degree. “The business” as I knew it when I started out 23 years ago has transformed beyond anyone’s wildest predictions, “undergoing a level of change that presents both unprecedented peril and possibility”, according to health journalism expert Gary Schwitzer.

Continue reading

January 9, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing | , | 2 Comments