The implications of the digital revolution for health and media will feature in the public health session of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation’s two-day New News conference, which opens as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival this Friday, (Aug 26).

Session chair and Foundation board member, Bill Birnbauer, will describe an international investigation by the Centre for Public Integrity that he worked on, which examined links between the tobacco industry and criminal organisations in cigarette smuggling.

Other panellists are Reema Rattan and Froncesca Jackson-Webb from The Conversation, and social media whizz Briony Walker, co-founder of the rural mental health Twitter chat group.

You can get some sense of the wider context for the conference from the digital revolutionary Jay Rosen’s list of five top articles about the changing nature of the news business. Many illustrate the power shift that is occurring between journalists and those formerly known as their audiences. Rosen is a keynote speaker at New News (more details at the very bottom of the post).

On related themes, below are some links to recent developments in health journalism and communications that may be of interest for those with a concern for public health.

Remembering that we now live in the age where anyone with internet access and know-how can be a publisher/reporter, there may be some ideas of relevance/use to many organisations beyond the media industry. Surely new media innovation will be part of core business for Medicare Locals, for example.

The archive below is grouped into articles about:

1. The push for greater transparency
2. Community engagement
3. Noteworthy developments and innovations

4. Useful tools, for journalism and beyond
5. General issues related to health journalism


1. Greater transparency

Opening up journalism
The open source movement is bringing greater transparency to journalism in many ways. The Nieman Journalism Lab reports on a collaboration between the Knight Foundation and Mozilla, creating a contest to encourage journalists, developers, programmers, and others to put together ideas for software to help improve the news. Informally called “MoJo,” the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership has been run as a challenge, the ultimate prize being a one-year paid fellowship in one of five news organizations: Al Jazeera English, the BBC, the Guardian,, and Zeit Online.

On a similar theme, one Swedish newspaper is involving its readers in editorial decision making (is there a lesson for the health sector here…)

Fearless media critique
The media industry has not traditionally been known for shining the spotlight on its own operations, but this is changing. This tough critique of The Washington Post comes from its own ombudsman, who concludes: “… The Post can’t be a liberal publication or a conservative one. It must be hard-hitting, scrappy and questioning — skeptical of all political figures and parties and beholden to no one. It has to be the rock-’em-sock-’em organization that is passionate about the news. It needs to be less bloodless and take more risks when chasing the story and the truth. Where do I get this crazy, almost populist notion? From the readers who write to me by the score every day. Whether they are liberal or conservative, that’s what they want. That’s what they deserve. That should be, and can be financially and journalistically, The Post’s future.”


2. Community engagement

Some ideas for how journalists (and others) can harness the crowd come from this column by Fast Company’s Adam Penenberg who gives an overview of the history of crowd-sourcing, and describes how he wrote an article about Servio (formerly CloudCrowd), a company that breaks up work-related tasks into mini-projects and distributes them to workers, by  crowdsourcing the research and writing to its 120,000 members.

Citizen investigation
The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation, according to MediaShift. More than 100 Gulf Coast volunteers are working on Grassroots Mapping, a project to create aerial maps with Gulf Coast residents to document ecologically vulnerable sites before, during and after oil hit. The group plans to set up site-based projects across the US to support community action with new low-cost, accessible tools and technologies. These projects will be developed in collaboration with local community and advocacy groups to address specific local issues.

Making journalism engaging
In this article for The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, University of Missouri academic Joy Mayer argues that journalists and media organisations need to focus far more on community engagement, and gives several interesting examples of how this is being done. She concludes: “Editors ought to require that story pitches and budget lines include an engagement component, reflecting community conversation, collaboration and outreach. In many cases, conversations about stories need to include these questions: Who is going to benefit most from this information? And how will reporters, editors and producers be sure those people find it?” (Sound like an invocation that could equally be made to the communities of health policy and research).

How to engage
A guide to community engagement for newsrooms, from the University of Missouri’s Reynold Journalism Institute.

Watchdogs in the audience
ProPublica is using a Twitter hashtag – #muckreads – to engage the wider community in sharing examples of watchdog reporting.


3. Noteworthy developments and innovations

Holding science to account
Retraction Watch, a blog which documents retractions of scientific papers, recently turned one. In its first year, the blog covered about 200 retractions, and logged more than 800,000 pageviews. The editors have found significant variations when it comes to how journals handle retractions. The blog is an example of a niche idea quickly gaining mainstream traction. John Rennie, former editor in chief of the Scientific American, recently told me that he thought it one of the most significant developments in science journalism in recent years.

Fighting medicalisation
Another specialist blog – Flashfree fights the medicalisation of menopause. This backgrounder from Reporting on Health profiles the journalist behind the blog, Liz Scherer.

Making a difference
Chapter Seven, a not-for-profit group in Melbourne, has launched an annual magazine that aims to “help Australia’s richest make a difference to the lives of the nation’s poorest”, according to MUmBRELLA. Called The Difference, it sells for $27.50, although the first issue is downloadable for free online.

Innovators worth borrowing from
21 new media innovators worth knowing about (in the US).

Corrections service
is a service for reporting specific, correctable errors and problems in media coverage. It aims to provide a neutral, civil, moderated discussion space, and alerts the journalists or news organization involved about your report and brings them into a conversation. The site is funded with a grant from the Knight News Challenge.

Apps for data
ProPublica is releasing news apps to make sense of data – this example, using education data, might inspire some in the public health community to start thinking of collaborations with new media outfits and journalists.

Community health
Many examples of innovation in community-minded health media projects are profiled in this blog from Reporting on Health about the Online Community Building and Health Fellowships.

Investing in healthy journalism
In a similar vein (and wouldn’t I love to see something like this in Australia), there are many fellowships in the US to support and encourage quality, in-depth health reporting.

Under-served areas
While countries like the US have such a wealth of health reporting, others like Kenya are missing out.

New funding models
The Covering Health blog describes an innovative way of funding a series on prescription drug abuse in Canada, via the reader-funded site with the help of a Canadian Institutes for Health journalism award.

Public health meets journalism education
This innovation in journalism education in California – teaching journalists to better recognise race, class, gender, generation and geography when reporting – could equally be seen as an intervention to increase public understanding of the social determinants of health.

Increasing diversity
Media Shift profiles an initiative aiming to increase coverage of under-served communities, including by citizen journalism. One of the sources said: “If we want to create a more multicultural view of the news that is reflective of our changing demographics, we need to shift the mix of providers from the 85 percent of white mainstream journalists that exists today. Yet less than 10 percent of foundation funding is going to people doing online news and information in underserved communities.”

Rural focus
Here’s an idea for encouraging reporting of rural and remote health issues (anyone interested in funding something like this in Australia?)

DIY broadcasting
The National Institutes of Health has an audio news service.


4. Useful tools and resources, for journalism and beyond

On Twitter
A guide
from Twitter for newsrooms – using the tweet for reporting, engaging, publishing and more. And a tool that allows journalists to see who has retweeted them.

Using LinkedIn
How journalists (or citizen journalists, or researchers) can used LinkedIn for research and investigations.

iPhone tips
Get the most out of  iPhones as a reporting tool.

A NYT report on its launch.

Sharing investigative expertise
Revealing some of the tools used by ProPublica in its Dollars for Docs investigation.

Finding public health data
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has launched the Global Health Data Exchange (or GHDx), a clearinghouse for global public health data sets, according to the Covering Health blog.

More public health resources
A public health library in California has created an online library to help journalists covering public health issues.

Toolkit for health journalists
A stack of resources
to help journalists cover studies.

Interviewing tips
To help those interviewing scientists, researchers and health care professionals.

Reporting on famine
Some suggestions from the Reporting on Health Blog for covering the Somalian famine – including the importance of providing some political context in stories.

Tips for covering drug addiction and treatment
More from the Reporting on Health blog (If you are interested in the sort of issues that crop up at Croakey, I recommend following this blog on Twitter).

Digital storytelling
The Observer reports on the potential of “multidirectional” digital storytelling, with links to several examples.


5. General articles about health reporting

Investigating safety and quality
US journalists turned data about safety and quality of healthcare into award-winning stories.

A public health failing
Public health needs to do a much better job of telling its stories, says one reporter.

Beware promotional researchers
Deborah Cohen, investigations editor at the BMJ, writes about the challenges facing health journalists (including promotional researchers and poor quality research papers) in a report about a recent National Institutes of Health workshop. The workshops aims to help journalists do a better job of analysing the flood of information released by journals, advertisers, medical societies, and other interest groups.

Searing critique
A Scientific American blogger laments the quality of health reporting.

And more critique…
Journalists in South Africa have been accused of failing their audiences when it came to reporting on the commercial forces behind an obesity awareness raising campaign.

Ethical considerations
A discussion of some of the ethical issues facing journalists when interviewing patients.

Sponsored news
Hospitals and other health providers in the US are increasingly moving into news sponsorhsip, and there are concerns about this.


Innovation overload?

I don’t know about you but after finishing this compilation, my head is spinning and I feel quite overwhelmed by the pace of development and innovation. Admittedly it seems that much of it seems to be occurring in North America – is Australia dragging the chain in health media innovation, or are there recent examples that I’ve missed?

As New York-based science journalist Christie Nicholson recently observed at the Banff science communications workshop that I’m attending in Canada, things move so fast on the web that web years are like dog years.

As if to reinforce this point, I have just learnt about the launch of yet another online news site – but with a twist. The Daily Dot uses traditional journalistic tools (like picking up a telephone) to report on its local community – the Internet. Its beat is covering virtual “communities” such as Reddit, Tumblr, 4chan and Twitter.

One recent story, for example, profiled the family behind a viral YouTube video that showed a little girl dancing with a dead squirrel. “We called up the parents and asked them what they were thinking. And it turned out they had a really good story,” said founding editor Owen Thomas. “It kind of changed their life. They were living off the grid, raising their daughter without internet access in their home. Now the mom is a YouTube microstar.”

Unfortunately, I can’t get to the New News conference (still in Banff), but am hoping some members of the panel or audience will provide a report on the session for Croakey readers.


Below are some of the reports from the public health session at New News last year

John Menadue’s sizzling critique of the media, politcs and more

• Nicholas Gruen on what Web2.0 could do for the health sector

• Hearing from Fiona Armstrong and the new Climate and Health Alliance

Essential reading for news managers and health journalists, with a clip from Gary Schwitzer


* Jay Rosen is also helping the Public Interest Journalism Foundation with a fund-raising dinner (Yes, we are on a fund-raising drive. If any Croakey readers are interested in supporting innovation in public interest journalism, please contact Tara Peck).



The previous Croakey update on developments in journalism/health, from March.