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Health journalism has far-reaching effects, say panelists

Rhea Becker
April 09, 2012

Health reporting can be a crucible for social, economic, and political issues, said Stephen Smith, a writer for the Boston Globe, at a panel that was part of Communication Week.

Three professionals who work in health journalism and communication—Smith, a health journalist for the Boston Globe; Lara Salahi, MA ’10, an award-winning multimedia journalist working with ABC News’s Medical Unit; and Anita Harris, founder of Harris Communications Group—spoke to a full house in the Multipurpose Room on April 5.

Smith has reported on a wide variety of health issues, including unequal access to expensive prescription medications, particularly for AIDS/HIV. “There is a waiting list for medications in Florida that is hundreds of names long,” he said, whereas in Massachusetts, patients generally get the drugs they need. “In certain states, you may literally die for lack of access to the drugs.”

Smith covered Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, and said the experiences were “transforming” for him. He covered the story of a girl who lost a leg in the Haiti disaster, yet persevered to help her family survive. Smith said he feels privileged to be able to “shine a light in a dark corner and to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of people.”

Lara Salahi, MA ’10, who writes for ABC News' Medical Unit on ABCNews.com, took part in a panel last week on health journalism.

Salahi, MA ’10, presented film clips from a five-part online report on autism she helped produce for ABCNews.com. “There might be one name for a condition, but there are so many stories that are part of it,” she noted.

Anita Harris, who has written for The MacNeil-Lehrer Report (now the NewsHour), Newsday, and National Public Radio, spoke about integrating strategic communication in health care, life sciences, technology, and energy. She said that while “anybody can tell any story they want,” there is a danger because “any information, whether [accurate or not], can get out without filters.”

The event was sponsored by the School of Communication with the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

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