Noise, health disparities, and the importance of diversity in journalism

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This tweet reflects an interesting idea in journalism on health topics.  Claims have floated around that journalists are becoming extinct because everyone can be a journalist due to the power of the Internet.  However, with the overload of information, maybe journalists need to occupy a deeper role, especially in important and often confusing fields such as health.  What do you think?  Do journalists have the potential to reduce the “noise” that makes it hard to understand controversial health topics?

The #NABJHealth13 hashtag brings up another interesting discussion on health journalism.  NABJ is the national Association of Black Journalists, an organization that works to increase diversity in journalism.  There were several interesting online conversations at this year’s conference that took place this weekend and was archived by the twitter feed. One theme was that diversity in journalism, especially in the health field, can improve health literacy and reduce health disparities.  Despite improvements, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive routine medical care and have higher rates of morbidity and mortality even when controlling for variables such as gender, age, and socioeconomic status as reported by the American Medical Association. 

Do you think journalism and media coverage contributes to health disparities due to how information is framed and perceived by different populations?  Should increasing diversity in the field be a priority beyond the efforts by organizations like NABJ?  Do you agree with the tweet below?  Could this be a bad approach when addressing health disparities?

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About Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn is a first year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School interested in innovations in medical education. When she is not preparing to be a physician, chances are she is on her bike!

3 Responses to “Noise, health disparities, and the importance of diversity in journalism”

  1. I agree with the first tweet. As citizens whose health is a top priority for us, we need to sift through a lot of junk on the web when it comes to reliable and accurate medical and health information. Journalists have the ability to serve as credible sources in their reporting of these issues. Like we talked about in the scientists vs. journalists class, the role of journalists is to take that heavy jargon often used with these topics and simplify it for the public.
    Journalism and media coverage certainly contributes to health disparities and how information is framed and perceived by different populations. Not only do racial disparities exist when it comes to getting the coverage they need, but also there is non-normative gender discrepancies, like for transgender and transsexual people who do not fill into a typical male or female role. Society has to do a lot of catch up for people of all sexes, genders and races to receive equal treatment opportunity and equal information. Increasing diversity in health coverage will prompt the conversation for marginalized people to enter the mainstream. The last tweet rings true as the media rarely covers how inequitable social and environmental factors contribute to unequal chronic health issues. Inherently, I think many people have an inkling to this fact, but until it is widely publicized not much action can be taken to help solve the problem.

  2. I think there is a very problematic theme that is pervasive with the growing knowledge of NCD’s or non communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer. These diseases are perceived to be based on lifestyle choices of individuals. In my opinion, this is a view that is too narrow to encompass the entire problem that is facing the healthcare situation within the United States. The phrase “lifestyle choices” indicates that a person who faces some of these NCD’s could have, in some way, prevented this outcome if only they had lived a healthier lifestyle, this does not take into account the complex web of barrier that marginalized communities face when it comes to health. Disparities within the education system means that information about preventative health cannot be circulated to everyone, and even if the information is available, it may not be interpreted in the intended way. Unsafe neighborhoods, lack of access to affordable, healthy food, and structural inequality for many groups contributes to ways in which health care time and time again is proven to be unequal within the United States for some groups. Though these factors are not biological in nature, they do have adverse physiological effects in the body. To answer your question, yes, I think if journalists are knowledgeable, they should try to distribute more comprehensive information to the public, rather than more superficial information. There is an abundance of information on the internet, but to put it into context, or even question the sources where it came from is not often utilized by journalists, but I think it should be. Journalists that can merely present a few facts with a sensationalized title are a dime a dozen, but those who provide greater context to the root of the problems in society, I think readers will have the knowledge to question information and have a greater understanding of some of these issues, which for some are life or death.

  3. The tweet that is shown is extremely powerful. It highlights such a big issue that marginalized communities have to deal with in so many different situations. Within several contexts, including health, individuals are often blamed, especially those who make “stupid” decisions or “deserve” the health problem. The constant blame on the individual veils the idea that society has so many disparities within it that individuals cannot be judged under the same lens. I am not and have never been homeless. Thus, I have no ability to judge what a homeless person does or does not do. If I believe that that individual will spend the money I give to them on drugs or alcohol, I have no right to judge them for their actions – I don’t have any idea where that person is coming from or why they are doing what they are doing. I have no clue what it feels like to live in their shoes. The tweet is starting point for some incredible dialogue and is written in such a thought-provoking way that it can really get conversations flowing.

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