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.

  • Melissa A Sweet1
  • Kate E Holland2
  • R Warwick Blood2

  • 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.


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