Justine Smith and Amanda Wilson write:

Media Doctor Australia (MDA), a website that monitors the quality of health news reporting in Australia, has come of age with its recent launch onto social media networks Twitter and Facebook.

We’ve previously described MDA on Croakey but briefly, the website was established in 2004 by a group of University of Newcastle health researchers and clinicians with an interest in assessing and (in the long term) improving the quality of news content of health stories in the Australian media.

There is good evidence that people get most of their information about new health findings from the media and this influences health choices.  We developed validated rating instruments – closely aligned with the Press Council of Australia Health Reporting Guidelines – and our stable of voluntary reviewers have been rating and posting reviews of health news stories for the past 7 years.

Why did we join the Social Network world?

The MDA website has been chugging along during this time, but limited funding has restricted our ability to actively promote it.

Increases in visitor numbers has been mostly driven by search engine referrals around the various health topics covered in our reviews. In 2010, we established a mechanism for RSS Feeds and made general improvements to the search functions, but little else had changed since the site was launched.

In May this year, we launched MDA onto Twitter and Facebook in order to connect more directly with our audience and participate actively in the conversation on media coverage of health.

The results have been amazing.

A quick comparison of two time periods before and after our launch, May 15 – June 22, 2010 and May 15 – June 22, 2011, showed an immediate and ongoing 17% increase in unique visitors to the site.

How did we join the conversation? None of our core team were Tweeters so there was a steep learning curve as we entered the Twitterverse.  Like proverbial babes in the woods, we wandered along, seeking out like-minded organisations in both health and media.

We were delighted to find so many supportive and interesting people and conversations (with only a few prickly ones which we find quite enlightening anyway).

Croakey has been extremely proactive in nurturing MDA’s infant steps in the virtual world. When we joined Twitter and followed Croakey, they kindly reciprocated by welcoming and introducing us to their 1,800 or so followers. Croakey has featured MDA on its blog, retweeted MDA reviews of health stories and stories from ‘Second Opinion’.

With many peak health organisations following Croakey, MDA’s reviews have quickly gone viral and with each review we publish we gain followers from organisations and individuals with related health interests from across the globe.

The same can be said for MDA’s US counterpart Health News Review. A re-tweet from Gary Schwitzer, the founder of Health News Review, reaches an initial audience of about 4,000 followers and that’s before it ricochets off into the virtual universe.


Journalists are our key target audience. Via Twitter we have sought and gained comments and feedback from journalists, invited contributions to our blog “Second Opinion” and had some interesting and enlightening conversations.

Being in direct contact with journalists whose work we review, and who will follow us and the MDA postings, means a better understanding of the barriers journalists face in today’s news environment and allows them another means of responding to our comments.

Across Media Doctor Sites

Twitter has also had an unexpected benefit of improving our interaction with other Media Doctor sites and our own MDA team.

Soon after MDA went live in 2004, sister sites were established in Canada, USA Health News Review, Hong Kong, Japan and Germany with a Swedish site soon to be launched.

Twitter provides easy ways to share information and see what our international colleagues offer their audiences in terms of health news reviewing and reporting.

Within a multidisciplinary international team

MDA Australia is a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including public health researchers, health specialists, journalists, web programmers and administrators. Members of the team are based in Australia, UK and Canada. Twitter and Facebook allows all MDA team members to join the discussion around individual health stories or via our blog Second Opinion.

Our foray into the world of social media has been an interesting, inexpensive and expansive journey which has taken us from a static to a dynamic and much more interactive position where we can put information out there and really engage with other people, rather than hoping people will come to the website and read the reviews.

We will continue to monitor the impact of social media on the site on an ongoing basis.

So, thank you for the warm and far reaching welcome – until we tweet again!

MDA Google Analytics Snap Shot

In the period immediately following our launch (May 15-Jul 22 2011), Media Doctor has had 6,039 visits to the site.

Of these visits:

  • 34% were directly from Google (organic),
  • 19% were direct to the site,
  • 16% were from a published article on Twitter,
  • 10% from Bing (organic).
  • The remaining 21% of visits were from other search engines and referrals (Yahoo 4%, google.com.au referrals 4%, blogs.crikey.com referrals 3%,, twitter.com referrals 2% and Facebook 1% and other 5%).