Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews TV

Ten troublesome trends in TV health news

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 02 December 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1352
  1. Gary Schwitzer (, assistant professor
  1. School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

    A 2002 Gallup poll showed that many Americans consider television their most important source of news and information on health. It also showed that television is one of the least trusted sources of such news and information. I studied each of the 840 health news stories that appeared between February and May 2003 on four television stations (KARE, KSTP, KMSP, WCCO) in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, where I live. As I watched hours of health news coverage, 10 troublesome trends scrolled across the screen.

    Too brief to matter—Brevity robs viewers of the chance to grasp the significance of health stories. TV stations often pay lip service to health news by creating segments (“Lifeline Minute” or “Health Headlines”). But as more than two thirds of the stories in this analysis lasted less than a minute, and more than half were 30 seconds or less, this is a shallow commitment.

    No full time health journalists—In the four months the four stations used 58 different people to report on health news, not one of whom worked full time. …

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