Education And Debate

Reporting research in medical journals and newspapers

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6984.920 (Published 08 April 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:920
  1. Vikki Entwistle, research studenta
  1. a Department of Information Science, City University, London EC1V 0HB
  1. Correspondence to: NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, York YO1 5DD.

    Newspapers are important sources of information about medical advances for many lay people and can influence those working in the health service. Medical journalists on newspapers routinely use general medical journals to obtain information on research. The Lancet and BMJ are both examined carefully by broadsheet journalists in Britain each week. These papers published an average of 1.25 stories from these journals every Friday. The stories focused on serious diseases, topical health problems, and new treatments rather than social problems. The newspaper stories were based on the full research article and not the journals' press releases, although the press releases were valued as early information. Journalists relied heavily on the peer review processes of the journals in ensuring accuracy.

    National newspapers often carry stories about the latest findings of medical research, many of which are based on articles published in prestigious general medical journals. Although the news media are an important source of information for many lay people, and may influence decision makers and health care professionals, little attention has been paid to the processes of lay reporting of medical research.

    To explore how research is translated into news I analysed the content of medical stories in four broadsheet newspapers and interviewed a sample of 10 medical journalists: the health correspondents for the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent Observer, and Times newspapers, three health page editors, a freelance journalist, and a medical columnist. The semi-structured interviews took place between November 1991 and June 1992 and lasted 45 to 120 minutes. Outline interview schedules were used flexibly to avoid constraining responses. Broad areas of questioning included how journalists saw their role and that of health news; sources of ideas and information; factors affecting the subject matter of their stories; and working relationships with colleagues, editors, and sources.

    News reports based on articles …

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