Only two kinds of medical reporting: “New Hope and No Hope”

The focus on drama, aberration, and controversy in much of the reporting about science and technology reflects the quest of journalists to make their articles more entertaining. Medical stories, for example, are guided by what is popularly known in the profession as Cohn’s First Law, named after Victor Cohn, a science writer on the staff of the Washington Post, who said, “There are only two kinds of medical reporting: New Hope and No Hope.”

page 119 of Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology
Dorothy Nelkin 1987


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3 Responses to Only two kinds of medical reporting: “New Hope and No Hope”

  1. Moth says:

    They have a product to sell to what can only be described as “consumers” who prefer (for whatever reason) information in small doses bundled up in fats and sugars.
    That’s one reason why the Andrew Bolt’s of the world do so well – they’re fast food media refined at its best. Junk media.
    Good science media is, for the most part, a salad with a good calorie count and the essential vitamins and minerals for a balanced meal. Most people will feel good for consuming it, but the growing majority will be left hungry – their junk quoter hasn’t even marginally been touched – and will need to supplement it with a full sugar soft drink (ie. gossip).
    It’s a sad state of affairs, but I can understand the point to the movie, “Idiocracy”… How long before we try to irrigate with sports drinks?

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Laura Tingle of the Australian Financial Review gave a really good definition of “quality journalism” – they tell you things you didn’t know and don’t necessarily agree with.
    Can’t think why there are so few quality journos!! 🙂

    You know the Stanislaw Lem quote about the “the poison is the sugar, not the pill itself”

  3. Moth says:

    It’s fairly obvious why there are so few quality journalists; integrity doesn’t pay as well as sensationalism, gossip and otherwise junk media.

    I made the decision years ago to avoid most media outlets after reading the biggest load of tripe on sharks in a week-long “exposé” after a young bloke was killed at West Beach.

    Nowadays, I pay more attention to ABC, BBC and certain reliable blogs for almost all my news updates. It lead to my ignorance of much of the media circus out to undermine science, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.

    The Stainislaw Lem quote is fitting.

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