During the H1N1 crisis, both the media and the government were accused of overblowing the situation.
While the fears of a pandemic appear to have fallen by the wayside, the question remains of whether official spokespeople and news outlets handled the situation in the best manner.
Journalists, scientists and students gathered at Concordia on March 19 to discuss areas where health journalism could improve to better handle the next crisis. Stories and releases surrounding the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were used as a case study and a launching pad for a large, group discussion on how health journalism as a whole could be improved.
The findings and recommendations will be summarized in a report, expected to be finished in two months.
“One of the critical things is getting scientists and journalists in the same space together to start seeing each other perspectives,” said Dr. Simon Bacon, from Concordia’s department of Exercise Science, who co-hosted the event with David Secko and Brian Gabrial, both whom teach in the university’s journalism department. Bacon said his goal is to promote understanding between the two different professions.
“I think we’re starting to see some common ground. I think we achieved the goal of getting these different opinions.”
The six-hour workshop featured a moderated panel discussion of three guest speakers in the morning, followed by group sessions involving all participants in the afternoon.
“I thought the group as a whole did a very nice job,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a guest panelist and director of global health for the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. “We really don’t interact with journalists a lot. I think it’s important to… start to try and develop a common language.”
According to Bacon, the group did manage to isolate some of the problems with health journalism that the H1N1 crisis illustrated.
“I think that what was clear was that there was an incredibly unique scenario,” he said, giving a preliminary summary of some of the groups’ findings. “This was something that happens very rarely and it was going so fast that there were communication problems between each level.”
The discussion was part of the Concordia Journalism program’s second annual health communication workshop. The final report will be posted at the workshop’s website, hjw10.concordia.ca, along with details for next year’s event.