Evidence-based journalism: a forlorn hope?

Norman Swan
Med J Aust 2005; 183 (4): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2005.tb06994.x
Published online: 15 August 2005

Media outlets have as much responsibility as ever to maintain standards

One of the roughest stories about medical coverage I’ve heard was from a bacteriologist who told me about the effort he’d made with a local journalist over a particular research story. But to his horror, when the article was published in the newspaper, every time the word “bacterium” should have been used, “virus” appeared instead. Outraged, he rang the journalist who gave him the standard response — that it was the subeditor’s fault. Not giving up, our intrepid researcher rang the subbie who told him “It wasn’t me, it was the editor”. So he called the editor whose response was, “I used journalistic licence. I reckoned our readers knew the word virus better. It doesn’t matter does it?”

  • 1 Correspondence: Dr Norman Swan, The Health Report, ABC Radio National, GPO Box 9994, Sydney, NSW 2001.
  • 2 The Health Report, ABC Radio National, Sydney, NSW.


Competing interests:

I try to earn a living from medical journalism and have made plenty of mistakes.

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  • 2. Smith DE, Wilson AJ, Henry DA. Monitoring the quality of medical news reporting: early experience with media doctor. Med J Aust 2005; 183: 190-193.<eMJA full text>
  • 3. Sane Australia. StigmaWatch 2004. Available at: (accessed Jul 2005).
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  • 5. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Media Watch. Available at: (accessed Jul 2005).


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