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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Media coverage of health issues and how to work more effectively with journalists: a qualitative study

Julie Leask1*, Claire Hooker2 and Catherine King3

Author Affiliations

1 Senior Research Fellow and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney, Australia

2 Senior Lecturer, Medical Humanities, Centre for Values, Ethics and Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Australia

3 Information Manager, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:535  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-535

Published: 8 September 2010



The mass media has enormous potential to influence health-related behaviours and perceptions. Much research has focused on how the media frames health issues. This study sought to explore how journalists in Australia select and shape news on health issues.


The study involved semi-structured interviews with 16 journalists from major Australian print, radio and television media organisations reporting on avian influenza and pandemic planning. Journalists, including reporters, editors and producers, were interviewed between October 2006 and August 2007. Thematic analysis was used to draw out major lessons for health communicators.


Journalists routinely attempted to balance different, sometimes competing, aims amidst significant operational constraints. They perceived the most trusted sources on health issues to be respected and independent doctors. Specialist health and medical reporters had a more sound technical knowledge, channels to appropriate sources, power within their organisations, and ability to advocate for better quality coverage.


An awareness of how to work with the media is essential for health communicators. This includes understanding journalists' daily routines, being available, providing resources, and building relationships with specialist health reporters.