First, Do No Harm

COVERING HEALTH has its own risks, and they're getting worse: but there is a way forward. That's the message behind "First, Do No Harm", a conference on health journalism being held in Coventry on 14-16 May, and the role of the freelance journalist is not only vital, it's unique in the problems it brings and the rewards it can yield.

Getting health coverage wrong has dire consequences: it can mean more distress for everyone, make people less inclined to seek help, or place health staff under undue pressure unfairly. But not covering health at all means accountability is never questioned.

As the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal proved, that can ultimately mean lives are at risk. So are livelihoods: freelances have to write well to stand any chance of getting more work.

The conference is organised by veteran public health campaigner and long-time NUJ activist Dr John Lister, an academic authority on public health policy, and looks at what is happening in health and journalism.

Health is a massive area - almost every outlet, in any medium, covers health in some way. Health services are increasingly under pressure: the NHS is facing huge cuts and sweeping changes, many of them with no political mandate.

Journalists (especially freelances) are increasingly asked to "cover health" with no training or support. Specialists are asked to do more and more in less time - relying increasingly on the press release with less time for corroboration.

PR is a growing area in healthcare as more private firms bid for lucrative health contracts. his is not unique to health; all specialist area of reporting have suffered from cutbacks, and freelance budgets are often the first to go - putting the independent writer under even more pressure.

Is this "the perfect storm" for this vital area of journalism? How will this affect the reporting of health? What are the risks for "another Mid-Staffs" (where management obsession over financial targets cost lives) being missed?

How can the beleaguered generalist and freelances best be prepared and supported to ask the right questions and get the right answers? Can PR for health be ethical - and how could you tell?

The key to getting health journalism is more training and support or all journalists who write about health, no matter what their degree of knowledge. Again, that is harder for freelances: you don't have company training options (or even time) to stay updated with. Freelance prices for the conference have been kept low: £60 for 3 days.

Details: www.europeanhealthjournalism.com or Dr John Lister 07774 264112

Last modified: 03 Mar 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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