From “the top ten foods to bust belly fat” to “asteroid hurtling towards earth”, many news stories about science or health contain factual errors. In many newsrooms across many countries, health and science reporters have been cut from staffs and the accuracy, balance and completeness of reporting has suffered. Even specialised science journalists sometimes get it wrong, short on time to check their work.
Watchdog blogs have come to the rescue, trying to right the wrongs in science stories. The Knight Science Journalism Tracker – run by a team of seasoned science journalists – has critiqued thousands of news stories since it launched in 2006. HealthNewsReview.org, written not only by science journalists but also by health professionals and researchers, aims to improve the public dialogue about health by helping consumers critically analyze claims about health interventions in the media. News Checkers is a Dutch blog run by journalism students who check the facts in science news stories. They also follow up with the journalists who wrote them, as does HealthNewsReview.
This session will examine these three approaches to the watchdog blog, and the protocols each operation follows when it comes to identifying dubious stories and using evidence to appraise them. The session will also discuss the impact of these blogs, whether they reach the audiences they need to reach, whether journalists learn from the criticism, how to determine whether an article is complete, and whether checking is most effective when done by fellow journalists, scientists or students.
Finally, the session will outline how to set-up a watchdog website in your own country, as well as the potential role of accuracy, balance and completeness in countries where health- or science- related claims often remain unchallenged.
Frank Nuijens <http://about.me/franknuijens, @franknu, Netherlands> is editor-in-chief of the university newspaper Delta and the science/alumni magazine Delft Integraal/ Outlook at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Before that he was a science journalist for programmes on Dutch public television, radio and the science news website. He is a lecturer in science journalism at Delft University of Technology, was a member of the executive committee of the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) 2009 in London, and of the program committee of the WCSJ 2011 in Doha. He edits the science journalism online course of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ).
Julia Belluz <http://juliabelluz.com/, @juliaoftoronto, Canada> is a Toronto-based journalist focused on health care and policy. She is interested in the intersection of research and reporting, and works to improve discourse about health and science in the media with her award- winning blog Science-ish <http://www2.macleans.ca/ category/blog-central/science-ish/>. A journalism fellow at McMaster University, she has advised the World Health Organization on training policymakers and science journalists from low- and middle-income countries about how to better use research evidence to inform their work. A senior editor at the Medical Post, she is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Ryerson University’s journalism school.
Deborah Blum <http://www.deborahblum.com, @deborahblum, USA> is a member of the Knight Science Journalism Tracker <http://ksj.mit.edu/tracker> team. She is a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer and the author of five books, most recently The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. She writes for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Scientific American and Time magazine. She also blogs about chemistry, culture (and the occasional murder) for Wired at her blog, Elemental, <http://www.wired.com/
Gary Schwitzer is publisher of the website HealthNewsReview.org <http:// www.healthnewsreview.org, @garyschwitzer, USA>, leading a team of more than two dozen people who grade daily health news reporting by major U.S. news organizations. In its first year, the project was honored with several journalism industry awards – the Mirror Award, honoring those who “hold a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit,” and the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism. His blog <http://www.healthnewsreview.org/blog/> – which is embedded within HealthNewsReview.org – was voted 2009 Best Medical Blog in competition hosted by Medgadget.com.
Peter Burger <http://www.hum.leiden.edu/lucl/ organisation/members/burgerjp.html, Netherlands> is the supervisor of the students of Leiden University in the Netherlands who check the facts <http:// www.nieuwscheckers.nl> in news reports in the general Dutch media. He worked as a science journalist for twenty years, specializing in linguistics and folkore. He has published books about language, writing, and urban legends. He is a lecturer with Leiden University’s department of Journalism and New Media.