Objectives Although the media can influence public perceptions and utilisation of healthcare, journalists generally receive no training in interpreting and reporting on medical research. Given growing evidence about the problems of medical excess, the need for quality media reporting has become a greater priority. This study aimed to co-design and assess the feasibility of a multi-component training intervention for journalists in Australia.
Method We conducted a small pragmatic pilot study with journalists using a pre- and post-design. Journalists attended a 90-minute online workshop delivered by expert researchers and clinicians via Zoom. The training intervention covered a range of topics, including strengths and limitations of different study designs, conflicts of interest, misleading medical statistics, population screening programs and overdiagnosis. The program also provided additional tools to help journalists with their reporting, including a Tip Sheet and list of expert contacts in health and medicine. Measures included the acceptability and feasibility of the intervention, and changes in journalists’ knowledge of overdiagnosis and common issues with health stories. Quantitative results were analysed descriptively using SPSS. Qualitative data were thematically analysed.
Results Eight journalists attended the online workshop and completed a pre- and post-workshop questionnaire. Six completed the 6-week follow-up (75% retention). Feasibility findings suggest that the medical training program is acceptable and relevant to journalists, with participants indicating the workshop had increased their confidence with reporting on medical tests and treatments. We observed increases in knowledge from pre- to post-workshop for all knowledge measures on common issues with health stories. Analysis of free-text responses identified several areas for improvement, such as including more examples to aid understanding of the counterintuitive topic of overdiagnosis, delivering the workshop in-person rather than online, and allowing more time for questions and discussion.
Conclusions Piloting suggested the multi-component training intervention is acceptable to journalists and provided important feedback and insights that will inform the development of a future randomised trial to test the intervention’s impact on media coverage of medicine.
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