Occupational practices and the making of health news: a national survey of US Health and medical science journalists

J Health Commun. 2008 Dec;13(8):759-77. doi: 10.1080/10810730802487430.


News media coverage of health topics can frame and heighten the salience of health-related issues, thus influencing the public's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Through their routine coverage of scientific developments, news media are a critical intermediary in translating research for the public, patients, practitioners, and policymakers. Until now, little was known about how health and medical science reporters and editors initiate, prioritize, and develop news stories related to health and medicine. We surveyed 468 reporters and editors representing 463 local and national broadcast and print media outlets to characterize individual characteristics and occupational practices leading to the development of health and medical science news. Our survey revealed that 70% of respondents had bachelor's degrees; 8% were life sciences majors in college. Minorities are underrepresented in health journalism; 97% of respondents were non-Hispanic and 93% were White. Overall, initial ideas for stories come from a "news source" followed by press conferences or press releases. Regarding newsworthiness criteria, the "potential for public impact" and "new information or development" are the major criteria cited, followed by "ability to provide a human angle" and "ability to provide a local angle." Significant differences were seen between responses from reporters vs. editors and print vs. broadcast outlets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics
  • Consumer Health Information
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Journalism, Medical*
  • Mass Media*
  • United States