Journalism and health

13. The health journalism of tomorrow /

We have reached the end of our health journalism program. Thank you for watching. To conclude our course, let us foresee and reflect on the challenges that health journalists will face in the coming years.

There is no doubt that the plethora of media sources will widen the continuous spread of false news. And when it’s about health; false news spreads viciously. And it is also more dangerous… Whether it about cancer, autism, or issues related to gynaecology, false news spread on social media leads patients to seek treatment with dangerous and ineffective products, as well as to stop taking their medications. Hence, verifying facts and combating false news will be part of the main tasks of health journalists, during the coming years.

More than ever before, and in the face of growing scepticism in traditional media and official health institutions; a health journalist will have to verify the information he obtains and support his submissions with credible sources in order to refute the rumours and any discourse inspired by conspiracy theories.

This challenge must be faced in conjunction with facing another challenge, which is the decrease in the time available to the media due to their increasing number on the internet. Any news broadcast on Twitter, TikTok, WeChat, and Vkontakte will reach different parts of the world in a matter of seconds, regardless of it being true or false.

What’s the best course of action here? Should we pounce on reporting, without allocating sufficient time to analyse it properly and verify its authenticity, even if that takes a long time? Should we stop reporting altogether for immediate verification of the authenticity of the news, especially since this task may be difficult and time-consuming, as proven by Brandolini’s law, which states that: “The amount of energy needed to dispel the nonsense is much greater than the energy required to produce it”? Or should we allocate adequate time for that?

These questions are now being asked and will be raised in all newsrooms, and the answer will differ from one digital media to another. It is possible, in the future, for digital media to adopt practices that allow the news to be taken with a pinch of salt, similar to what the traditional weekly newspapers do.

Undoubtedly, it will be worthwhile to invest in new journalistic formats such as database journalism and related infographics, as well as immersion journalism that proposes a graceful approach to news, or collaborative or dialogue journalism that works with readers. We also consider podcasts or social media stories… Therefore, the news media in the future will consist more of multimedia than ever before.

It is necessary to be curious when it comes to form and content. The interest in health news will increase as it becomes more complex.

Health news will be more technical, which will require improving the training of journalists in the scientific fields and increasing their awareness of the related challenges and, furthermore, establishing a deeper collaboration between scholars in order to create reliable references and sources.

Health news will be more global as well. The increased interest in scientific research and medicine at the global level may lead to an increase in the prevalence of cultural exchanges, and this would allow the general public to understand the global and holistic dimension of scientific research, because health-related information is local and global at the same time.

In conclusion, a word on the importance of journalism ethics. Health journalists should not become official spokespeople of scientists or health institutions. On the contrary, they must have a spirit of sound scepticism, and never consider science as a dogma, and they must always rethink, search, confront, investigate and analyse data in its context, and cite their sources. Finally, they must refrain from any collusion with financial or political actors. Promoting sound science is a challenge on its own, and it must not be subordinated to any ideology.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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