Health Issues Gain Steam with All Types of Readers

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

Health has been receiving more attention in the Times-Union.

For instance, last week the Lifestyle section reported on ear infections, the Taste section began a local nutrition column and the Metro section announced a new health Q&A column. Wire stories are being used more frequently in the A section and are included in the A-1 Index.

The new emphasis is well deserved. Readers consistently say they are interested in health. In fact, a new national survey conducted for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University showed that health and public policy are the top issues among Americans. Entertainment, business, sports and celebrities have much narrower followings.

What do health and public policy issues have in common?

"People can see their stake in a health story," said Thomas Patterson of the Shorenstein Center.

Health involves life and death. What else is more newsworthy? In addition, health issues quickly move from the personal to the political when access and affordability are involved.

Older readers are more interested in disease, younger readers in fitness, while everyone seems to be on a diet. There are public policy controversies, ethical issues, financial concerns and health insurance controversies.

Readers need help obtaining information available over the Internet, pinpointing breakthroughs, exposing the hype, revealing the fads, investigating the scams and identifying the bargains.

Professor Robert Blendon of Harvard University has compared public satisfaction with national health systems in 12 countries, and has researched public attitudes on Social Security and Medicare reform. Lack of coverage has more to do with newspaper industry issues than serving readers, he said.

"There is an editorial bias against news you can use as opposed to current affairs," Blendon said in a telephone interview. …