For both health care and health care journalism, there’s something missing in the middle

By | February 11, 2019

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Joy Victory has been deputy managing editor of since 2016. She tweets as @thejoyvictory.

In 2015, a few months before I started working at, Cosmopolitan magazine published my article, “Why are so many American women dying in childbirth?”

Tired of women getting blamed for the problem, I used my personal story to explore the fissures in U.S. maternal health care: At the hospital where I gave birth, and in my prenatal midwife appointments near the end of my pregnancy, I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel listened to, and I didn’t feel respected. 

Now, in my final few weeks on the job, as comes to a close, I find myself (gratefully) reflecting on a recent opposite experience. In November, I had abdominal laparoscopic surgery and I couldn’t have asked for a better medical team and hospital. I felt safe, I felt listened to, I felt respected. I also felt pampered, as the hospital had plenty of extra perks, like a personal bed warmer, a compassionate nurse who stayed by my side all day, and a rooftop garden. My eye-popping bill, covered by my insurance, revealed how this was all possible.

In the days after, I kept thinking, that was really nice, but where’s the middle ground? Reliable, effective care without bells and whistles that make it unnecessarily expensive? 

And when I came back to work after time off to heal, this thought expanded to healthcare journalism: We see a lot of really low-quality journalism–hastily written, blatantly promotional, and often molded into clickbait. Too much money is apparently being spent on daily not-ready-for-prime-time health care news – money that dresses up unimportant health care news with attention-grabbing wrapping paper that isn’t warranted. Why are people even being paid to do churnalism, churning out junk news every day to meet some quota? And why are some being paid to put their name on what is really just a regurgitated news release?

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At the other end of the spectrum, a handful of news organizations regularly offer up stellar investigative or in-depth explanatory journalism, which we’ve made sure to showcase in our 5-Star Friday series. Our nominees all have two things in common: They took time and money to create, which are both in short supply for many news organizations.

But not every story needs to be either clickbait or worthy of a Pulitzer. The middle ground–complete yet efficient reporting–is what both readers want and need to read. Adopting our 10 criteria can be a good starting point for this kind of journalism, as these review examples demonstrate:

More of this kind of reporting is what readers want–and need–as they wade through an increasingly complex and expensive healthcare system, full of misplaced incentives, questionably effective treatments, weaker regulations, and minimal accountability.

The first two examples here took “the long view” — instead of focusing on a new study, they take a wider look at the health problem at hand, and what the research shows–and doesn’t show. The third example uses a new study as the starting point for a larger discussion of the challenges of tapering off opioids for chronic pain. Richly sourced, they are far from clickbait, yet they didn’t require any special sleuthing or fancy storytelling.

In other words, they walk the middle ground, and by doing so, stand out from the crowd.

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