J-School Centennial Experience

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Seminar on Delivering Health Information

Posted by abmq39 on September 12, 2008

            The intensity of the Delivering Health Information session at the centennial of Mizzou’s J-school was apparent when the moderator, Susan Dentzer, said, “People can die from bad health information.”

            The first speaker was John Barklow, who works for the National Institutes of Health. He expressed the common view of the need for immediacy in today’s world. He also spoke on credibility. NIH is one of the most prestigious and credible research firms in the county, but they still have trouble convincing everyone their information is correct. They also have trouble getting information to the public. He said that he wanted to try and send people information they need to know vie email and text messages, but the general population would regard that as junk. It’s hard to get people information when they won’t accept it.

            After Barklow, Glen Nowak took the stage. He is part of the Center for Disease Control. He discussed how he works with the media. The CDC utilizes educational materials, a weekly publication, press releases, tele-conferences, briefs, and networking through larger organizations. He explained that it’s hard to get important information to the public because a lot of people get their information from “infotainment” shows likes Oprah. Even reporters aren’t specialized like they used to be. The biggest challenge he had linked to new technology was the number of blogs and the inability to make sure they are all accurate or contained. It’s impossible to control all of them.

            Next up came Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press. He was the only journalist on the panel. He discussed the difficulties of working with people like Barklow and Nowak because what one considers news depends on their perspective. Stobbe finds news in information that contradicts previous knowledge or new information on a hot button issue, whereas the health organizations may find something more mundane equally important. In the end, the story is up to the journalist. The media may also want more information than is necessary for the agency to release, and that can be a conflict of interest.

            At the end, the panel discussed how difficult it is to reach all demographics with the information they need to know. Market segmentation makes it impossible to reach everyone through a single source. Another interesting topic the panel approached as a whole was the lack of math and science experience as a journalist. Stobbe explained that he joined an association of health journalists who help each other out. They help with quick education or ideas on where to find sources. He also suggested reporters go back to school if specializing so they honestly understand what they’re writing.

            Health information is constantly changing with new research, and finding a way to tell it where people will find it and understand it is a huge challenge of today’s media. 

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