An idea for harnessing the expertise of departing journalists – and providing a powerful health service to local communities
(This post is being updated as more comments land…)
This is a fraught time for journalists and the media industry, and it is particularly depressing for those who care about the quality of reporting on health, medicine and science.
These journalists are leaving or have left their jobs:
• Leigh Dayton, science writer at The Australian
• Deborah Smith, science editor at the SMH
• Mark Metherell, health correspondent at the SMH
• Julie Robothom, medical editor at the SMH
• Adele Horin, whose focus on social justice at the SMH was so valuable from a health perspective
• Debra Jopson, whose reporting on Indigenous affairs and health at the SMH was also widely respected.
(If I’ve missed anyone known for their coverage of health, medicine or science, please let me know).
The Fairfax job losses were described in a Crikey story today as “the biggest clear out of talent in the history of Australian journalism” (Crikey is compiling a list of those who are leaving Fairfax), and you can see some of the concerns being raised more widely at the bottom of this post.
Hopefully some of these journalists may reappear in other roles, elsewhere – perhaps in new media ventures?
I’ve lost track of how many talks I’ve given over the past few years, wearing my Croakey and Public Interest Journalism Foundation hats, urging the health sector and wider civil society to step up to the plate in engaging with media innovation if they value the public interest role of journalism.
Generally I’ve not had a lot of feedback to suggest any willingness to do so.
While many appreciate the seismic shifts that are occurring in the media industry, both in Australia and globally, there is not much acknowledgement that journalism has become, in some senses, everyone’s business – and is no longer the preserve of media moguls.
Below is an idea for a health media startup that I’ve pitched a few times – to a forum in Sydney last year, to a primary health care conference in Cairns recently, and to a public health meeting in Perth last week.
Apparently, one NZ health outfit liked the idea and is considering whether they could do anything with it.
If others in public health/primary healthcare/digital innovation etc are interested, now is the time for action – there are plenty of talented, experienced journalists coming onto the market…
Pitching a new media startup: Health@Watch
I envisage Health@Watch as an online news and engagement portal for local communities.
It would cover health in its widest possible context – looking at local and broader factors influencing health, as well as health services.
These might be local development and planning controls, the density of junk food and alcohol outlets, housing affordability, and the incidence of insecure work in an area.
The site would be participatory, engaging both the health and social sectors, and wider community in discussions and contributions, and it would have a watchdog/accountability role – not only focused on health services.
While it would operate within a strong public health and primary health care framework, it would tell the failures as well as the successes of primary health care and public health. And it would have a strong focus on equity.
It would also have a central focus on turning the ever-increasing volume of health data into stories that engage the community and policy makers in the issues that matter.
It would have editorial independence and do worthwhile public interest investigations. It would not be a bland PR mouthpiece for services, providers or funders.
While this might at times result in stories that are uncomfortable for all concerned, this would also be the source of its real value and strength.
After all, one of the reasons, hospitals have dominated health debate is that hospital funding crises and other negative headlines recur fairly regularly on page one.
Perhaps there could be a national Health@Watch site that aggregates the best and most useful content from the local Health@Watch sites.
Some reaction to the loss of specialist journalists
Julie Leask, who has done a lot of research around media reporting and public health, also tweeted a link to one of her studies, which found, amongst other things, that “specialist health and medical reporters had a more sound technical knowledge, channels to appropriate sources, power within their organisations, and ability to advocate for better quality coverage”.
Update: And a response from one of those remaining at Fairfax to some of the concerns being raised on Twitter