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Type of site
|Owner||Schwitzer Health News LLC|
|Created by||Gary Schwitzer|
|Slogan(s)||Independent Expert Reviews of News Stories|
HealthNewsReview.org is a web-based project that rates the completeness, accuracy, and balance of U.S. news stories that include claims about medical treatments, tests, products and procedures. It builds on the pioneering initiative of the Media Doctor website in Australia. Its 10-point grading scale includes whether a story gives information about its sources and their competing interests, quantifies the benefits of a treatment, and appraises the evidence supporting the story's claims.
Gary Schwitzer, the publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, was formerly a journalist at CNN and founded the website in 2006 while teaching journalism at the University of Minnesota.He also publishes the Health News Watchdog blog, which resides within the broader HealthNewsReview.org site. (The blog was formerly known as Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview blog.) The blog covers a wider range of health care issues and how they are discussed in the public sphere, including health care industry marketing, advertising and public relations messages.
The project monitors the Associated Press, Reuters, HealthDay, TIME, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, NPR.org, MSNBC.com, CNN.com, WebMD and 10 of the leading U.S. newspapers, ranked by circulation. The site stopped reviewing network television health news stories in 2009 after analyzing 228 stories. Two or three reviewers evaluate each story, drawing from a team of more than two dozen journalists, physicians, researchers and two breast cancer survivors - all trained in the evaluation of evidence.
In its first 22 months, the website reviewed 500 news stories, and found that they usually failed to discuss evidence quality, alternative options, costs, and absolute sizes of benefits and harms. At that time, the editors of the journal PLoS Medicine wrote: “Schwitzer’s alarming report card of the trouble with medical news stories is thus a wake-up call for all of us involved in disseminating health research-researchers, academic institutions, journal editors, reporters, and media organizations-to work collaboratively to improve the standards of health reporting.”  In 2011, the Columbia Journalism Review website published an update on the site's findings. At the end of 2011, the site reported some signs of improvement in health news grades when it compared the first 814 stories reviewed with the next 855 stories analyzed.
Journalists whose work is reviewed are sent an email with a link to the story review. It is the only such systematic feedback project for health care journalists in the U.S. The site also offers a toolkit to help journalists and consumers learn how to evaluate evidence.
There were once six such international projects, all using the same basic criteria to evaluate the quality of news stories. However, from the following list, the Australian and Canadian efforts have stopped publishing because of funding problems:
- Media Doctor Australia
- Media Doctor Canada
- Media Doctor Hong Kong
- Media Doctor Japan
- Medien-Doktor.de - the German HealthNewsReview
In 2006, the year the project launched, it was honored with a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism. In 2007, it won a Mirror Award to honor those "who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit." In 2009, Schwitzer's blog was named Best Medical Blog in competition hosted by Medgadget.com.
The project received its initial support from the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation, but the Foundation assigned total editorial control to Schwitzer, who worked for the Foundation from 1991-1999, producing shared decision-making video programs. The Foundation's funding of the project ended in 2013.
The project has a Facebook page.
- Schwitzer G (2008). "How do US journalists cover treatments, tests, products, and procedures? an evaluation of 500 stories". PLoS Med. 5 (5): e95. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050095. PMC . PMID 18507496. Lay summary – Guardian (2008-06-21).
- The PLoS Medicine Editors (2008). "False hopes, unwarranted fears: the trouble with medical news stories". PLoS Med. 5 (5): e118. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050118. PMC . PMID 18507502.