Health News and the Importance of News Releases

Photo credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division, via Wikimedia Commons. Click for more information.
Photo credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division, via Wikimedia Commons. Click for more information.

A new study from the BMJ highlights the link between exaggeration in news releases about health-related research and exaggeration in news stories about that same research. And, in a timely coincidence, a project based out of the University of Minnesota has announced that it will be holding people accountable for misleading news releases.

A paper describing the work, “The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study,” by Petroc Sumner, et al., was published in the BMJ Dec. 9.

Virginia Hughes has written about the research on her Only Human blog, so I won’t discuss it at length here.

Suffice it to say that the paper concludes that “Exaggeration in news is strongly associated with exaggeration in press releases.”

Meanwhile, on Dec. 8, Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org (HNR) announced that the site has received new funding and will resume its reviews of health-related news stories, based out of a new Center for Media Communication and Health at the University of Minnesota.

For years, HNR used a specific set of criteria to review health-related news stories. But Schwitzer’s Dec. 8 announcement also noted that HNR will soon use a similar set of criteria to begin reviewing news releases about health-related research. (The news release reviews will begin rolling out in early 2015.)

Given the paper from Sumner, et al., Schwitzer’s announcement was a timely one.

On a personal note, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will be one of the reviewers at the revamped HNR site.

Will it be difficult for a news release to comply with the high standards being set by the review criteria? Probably. But it can be done.

Before agreeing to be one of the reviewers, I asked Schwitzer whether it’s even possible for a news release to fully comply with all of the relevant criteria. His response: “We think so, and hope so….We admit we hold the bar high and don’t apologize for that. We are setting an ideal. It’s our stake in the ground that this is the way business should be done.”

In short, it gives us all something to shoot for.

So, I signed on. I’m excited about the future of HNR. This should be interesting.

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10 thoughts on “Health News and the Importance of News Releases

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