Kaiser Foundation Starting News Service — As Survey Finds Scant Coverage Of Health

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By: E&P Staff

In a survey sure to surprise those who think health news gets perhaps excessive play in the media, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported Monday that health and health care topics made up just 3.6% of all news content.

Just as the survey emerged, The New York Times reported that the Kaiser foundation has hired former Wall Street Journal and Congressional Quarterly journalists to head the launching of a news service devoted to health care issue.

Kaiser Health News will be based in Washington with a budget that is expected to grow to $3 million to $4 million in the next two years,” Times reporter Kevin Sack reported. The service will be run by Laurie McGinley, formerly the deputy bureau chief for global economics at the Journal, and Peggy Girshman, who had been an editor at Congressional Quarterly and worked previously at National Public Radio.

They plan to “recruit a half-dozen full-time reporters and several editors and to contract with numerous freelance journalists,” the Times reported. “They hope to begin producing original stories early next year.”

The topics of health and health care could use the exposure, the Kaiser and Pew survey suggest. Health ranked well behind coverage of foreign affairs and crime, and just behind stories about disasters and accidents, the survey found.

“While journalists know that Americans are keenly worried about their health care, in practice that usually translates into reporting on specific diseases and conditions rather than examining health policy issues such as why health care costs so much or what to do about it,” Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said in a statement.

Newspapers come closest to that kind of coverage, the survey suggests. For instance, newspapers were the most likely to address health policy issues, which comprised 41% of its total health coverage, compared to 26% of cable’s health news and 18% of online health news.

Network evening news devoted the most percentage of it content — 8.3% — to health and health care issues, while newspapers devoted 5.9%, online 2.2% and cable news 1.4%.

Overall, the largest proportion — 42% — of the stories were about specific diseases or conditions, with cancer in first place with 10% of all health coverage.

Public health issues such as epidemics or food contamination took up 31% of total news content. Health policy issues got only 27% of all health news — or less than 1% of total content.

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