Where to put health stories in the paper and why it matters

The Boston Globe has taken to playing stories on medical research findings — like today’s digital mammography report —  on Page 2. For the writer, good play, but not great. To the reader, this suggest important, but not front page important.  This is commendable – often stories about complicated or incremental developments make  the front page,  giving readers the false impression that they need to stop eating eat this food or start taking that drug.

photo (3)A front page story on a research paper suggests a major development. (Good health writers try not to use the hyperbolic word “breakthrough.”)  So, the 1A Vertex story on a new CF drug rates as both a business and medical story. It could be life changing for people with cystic fibrosis and for the company’s bottom line, which is suffering from the arrival of new Hep C drugs. What we don’t like about the CF story – it could use a comment from someone not involved in the research. It’s a business story, so they seek out an analyst,  but he gushes. And his agenda is investing, not health.  It needs a CF scientist or clinician not involved in the study. Still, we get how hard it is to pull these stories together on deadline.

The Page 2 story on digital mammography offers such a comment. The JAMA article was accompanied by an editorial from Dr. Etta Pisano, a breast imaging radiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina who has done a lot of work in this area. Could have been a bit higher in the story but it works:

“There’s a debate about the harms of screening and overdiagnosis of breast cancers from mammograms and to me, this doesn’t resolve that,” she said.

Want to see how it shouldn’t be done? Check out the Health News Review. The list of stories that resorted to sensational language – breakthrough, game-changer, best way of detection, any woman should have this, lifesaver – was long.”

What’s the Boston play online? By late morning, neither story was high on the home page. At least you can click on the Business section from the home page. Health? Still no home on the home page. Click on “News” to find the link.

 

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