Learning from journalists’ experiences of the H1N1 pandemic

Melissa A Sweet, Kate E Holland and R Warwick Blood
Med J Aust 2012; 197 (10): . || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11625
Published online: 19 November 2012

Good working relationships with journalists are needed during public health crises

An Australian Government review of the health sector’s response to the H1N1 2009 influenza pandemic identified the importance of communications during times of public health crisis, and made a number of recommendations for improvement.1 Journalists were not listed among the stakeholders consulted for the review, despite the intensive and sustained media coverage the pandemic received.2,3 Given the important role of the media in communicating to the public and health professionals and in influencing attitudes and behaviours about public health advice,4 it is worth considering how journalists’ perspectives can help to refine and shape public health communication practices. As part of a larger study into media reporting and public understandings of the 2009 pandemic,2,3 we interviewed 24 journalists who reported on the pandemic in Australia, and they provided practical guidance for organisations and individuals involved in providing public health advice. The journalists and news managers worked in print and broadcast media, mainstream mass media and specialist medical outlets, and in metropolitan and regional areas.

  • 1 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT.


Our study is part of a larger project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) investigating traditional newspaper and television news portrayal of the H1N1 virus (#628010). All authors are researchers on an NHMRC Capacity Building Grant in Public Health (#571376), “The Australian Health News Research Collaboration”.

Competing interests:

Melissa Sweet works as a freelance journalist and was employed by the project as a research assistant to interview journalists and to prepare the manuscript. Before this, she had covered the pandemic for various media outlets, in her role as a freelance journalist.

  • 1. Department of Health and Ageing. Review of Australia’s health sector response to pandemic (H1N1) 2009: lessons identified. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2011. (accessed Jun 2012).
  • 2. Fogarty AS, Holland K, Imison M, et al. Communicating uncertainty — how Australian television reported H1N1 risk in 2009: a content analysis. BMC Public Health 2011; 11: 181.
  • 3. Holland K, Blood RW. Not just another flu? The framing of swine flu in the Australian Press. In: McCallum K, editor. Media, democracy and change. Refereed proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference; 2010 Jul 7-9; Canberra. (accessed Mar 2012).
  • 4. Holmes BJ. Communicating about emerging infectious disease: the importance of research. Health Risk Soc 2008; 10: 349-360.
  • 5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health communicator’s social media toolkit. (accessed Oct 2011).
  • 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC’s guide to writing for social media. (accessed Jun 2012).
  • 7. Holmes BJ, Henrich N, Hancock S, et al. Communicating with the public during health crises: experts’ experiences and opinions. J Risk Res 2009; 12: 793-807.
  • 8. Bennett P, Calman K, editors. Risk communication and public health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • 9. Hooker C, King C, Leask J. Journalists’ views about reporting avian influenza and a potential pandemic: a qualitative study. Influenza Other Respi Viruses 2012; 6: 224-229.
  • 10. Leask J, Hooker C, King C. Media coverage of health issues and how to work more effectively with journalists: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health 2010; 10: 535.
  • 11. Larson H, Heymann D. Public health response to influenza A(H1N1) as an opportunity to build public trust. JAMA 2010; 303: 271-272.
  • 12. Association of Health Care Journalists. Guidance on the release of information concerning deaths, epidemics or emerging diseases. (accessed Oct 2011).


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.