Approximately 4,000 layoffs and 70 closures of media organizations in 2012 alone. This is the bleak picture that currently faces journalists, according to the Federation of Journalists in Spain. These cutbacks in the media have also particularly affected biomedical journalists, a group that has traditionally been on the margins, who in recent years have witnessed a paradigm shift triggered by the explosion of the Internet.
In the new Esteve Foundation Notebook El periodismo biomédico en la era 2.0, edited in collaboration with the Pompeu Fabra University’s Observatory of Scientific Communication (OCC), ten information experts reflect on the challenges facing the biomedical journalist in this era of the Internet, probably one of the most significant changes faced by journalists in the entire history of their profession.
This publication stems from the international symposium held in Barcelona in September 2011, which brought together more than 70 scientific communications professionals. Moderated by Vladimir de Semir, director of the OCC, the first block of the day addressed the challenges posed by the Internet for biomedical journalists, something that Connie St Louis, from BBC Radio 4, examines closely as Director of the Masters in Biomedical Journalism at City University, London. In an age dominated by the communication of information, the journalist must resurrect their role of investigating and questioning that which surrounds them.
For Ana Macpherson, from the science section of La Vanguardia newspaper and another contributing author to this Notebook, the current pressure for immediacy plays against rigor, while job insecurity conflicts with the specialization required of biomedical journalism. This is something about which Patricia Fernández de Lis is well versed, as she was once head of the science section of the now discontinued Público newspaper and today she is director of Esmateria.com. Her vision of the profession is inevitably pessimistic in an age that has to survive with a dearth of quality media, where impact is what is most important and where the journalist's job is limited to separating the wheat from the chaff.
Is all the health information that is published newsworthy? This is another of the issues addressed by the Notebook in a second section of articles. Gary Schwitzer, director of online review Health News Reviews, notes that 70% of the information published offers an unbalanced view, exaggerating benefits and minimizing the risks.
His colleague Holger Wormer, who heads the German edition of Health News Review Mediendoktor.de, analyses the value of a news item those qualities that make a fact likely to be published. For his part, Pablo Francescutti, director of Group for Advanced Studies in Communications at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, was able to quantify the selection criteria of media outlets in his study of scientific information in Spanish television news.
But if there is a situation that encapsulates all the opposing values in news publication and represents a magnet for the media, this is certainly a health crisis. Paz Gómez, from the newspaper La Verdad in Murcia, shows that a pandemic like the flu recently met ten of the fourteen most important criteria for newsworthiness. For her, the journalist must confront a health crisis with foresight, a communication strategy and aiming to avoid alarmism.
The Notebook contains a closing chapter by Milagros Pérez Oliva, from El País newpaper, who welcomes the Internet and sees it as a tool that provides new solutions to the problems that journalism has been confronting since its beginnings, such as the verification of sources or the diffuse border between communication and information.
The PDF El periodismo biomédico en la era 2.0 can be downloaded in its entirety or by chapter by clicking on the following links. It is also possible to order a hard copy of the publication by clicking on the link Add to selection.