This opinion is offered by Adam Chiara, communications associate at Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.
When newsrooms shrink it doesn’t just limit your access to important information, it is also hurting your health.
Okay, I admit I have no study to support that claim directly. There is, however, a rationale for it.
Before I begin, let me also quickly strike down any notion that this is just another bash on “the media.” If anything, they are the victims in many ways, and one of the true sources of the problem may just surprise you.
What’s Happening in Newsrooms
Newsroom budgets are being cut, and those cuts force tough decisions about what is covered.
Less staff means one reporter may now have the workload of three journalists. This means some stories are just not going to be told and others will not be told well.
Unfortunately, it is often health care stories that go underreported.
Too Few Beat Reporters
Beat reporters are important to the ecosystem of journalism and to quality reporting. Think of them as in-house experts on a subject or geographic location. These reporters exclusively cover their area expertise. It could be they report on all stories that revolve around politics, a specific town, or a subject like health care.
Beat reporters need to master their topic’s subject matter, and this leads to more comprehensive coverage and stories. Without having background knowledge on a subject, a reporter must approach a story from scratch every time.
Here’s an analogy to clarify the current state many journalists now find themselves in with the loss of beat reporters. Pretend your child asks you for help on their math homework. Sure, you know Algebra (kind of), but you might need a refresher yourself before you can walk them through it.
Now, let’s say you’re given a deadline. You have just 30 minutes total to explain it to your kid. Well, if you need 20 minutes to relearn Algebra yourself, do you think you will be doing a service to your child by rushing a shaky explanation in 10 minutes?
That, in a nutshell, is what is happening to reporters with assignments like health care. A reporter now is often just assigned the story for the day and has to learn the complexities of health care and the actual story itself in just a few hours.
With this method, it’s no wonder your child is a C student in Algebra, and too many of us flunk our own Health Care 101
Health Care Lost in Translation
Health care is going through a major tectonic shift. There are issues at play like insurance companies and hospitals merging and consolidating – which is creating monopolies. Access to health care is improving, but affordability, even for middleclass families, is worsening. Lack of transparency is creating higher costs for services and poorer accountability in care.
Yet, most Americans probably could not articulate any of these problems. Without quality, consistent reporting on these issues, mediocre stories on these daunting challenges just get buried in a sea of other so-so articles.
While big cuts in health care have occurred in newsrooms like the Hartford Courant and the local TV stations, some of the slack has been picked up by other, smaller outlets.
For example, sites like the CTMirror have a reporter who just covers health care. Another site called C-HIT is an outlet that solely reports on health care stories in the state. Still, media organizations like these have a smaller reach in comparison to the hits the established media in the state receives.
It should also not be overlooked that just because there are a few outlets dedicated to health reporting, it’s a one step forward after three steps backwards scenario. And the scary thing is, if outlets like these go bust, the established media is not going to fill that void that they already left.
Don’t Just Blame the Media
While it may seem like this post is meant to wag the finger at the media, it’s actually the opposite. I think we, as media consumers, have to be much more conscious in driving the coverage we want.
The media is just another player in our capitalistic economy. It has to make money to survive. With the internet giving us the mindset that stories are “free,” the loss of subscriptions has drained outlets to their bare bones.
Here are some questions for you – what newspapers are you subscribed to? How much have you donated to non-profit and independent news sites? When is the last time you have written to a newspaper asking for more coverage of a topic?
There is a saying, “We vote with our wallets.” Yes, the public has grown accustomed to free news, but is free always better?
There’s another saying that is very relevant to this predicament, “You get what you pay for.”
Until we reward the media outlets providing the kind of quality-coverage we want, and we take proactive steps to demand a higher standard of the media, the public is only going to receive the information that the media can afford to give us.
In other words, a small investment in news could mean a big investment in health care and your well-being.
Before serving as the Foundation’s communications associate for the last two years, Adam Chiara was a freelance reporter for several Connecticut media outlets. He is leaving the Foundation this month to pursue another opportunity. This blog post has been a reflection of what he has witnessed in the media industry from the perspective of being both a former journalist and working at a health care advocacy organization.