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Health Media: Tips for Avoiding Sound-Bite Seduction

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Wellness related image Photo: Getty Images

"Morning Glory" starring Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Harrison Ford is a wonderfully funny movie about the behind the scenes challenges in broadcast news. McAdams plays Becky Fuller, an executive producer charged with revitalizing a failing morning news program. The painfully accurate reality depicted in the movie is that news outlets live and die by their ratings so that we, the viewers, can get the news for free.

So who pays for it? Broadcast, print and web news media is supported by advertising revenue, and the basic business model is straightforward:

* News attracts viewers.
* Number of viewers is monetized.
* News outlet sells advertising space/time to marketers.
* The more viewers there are, the more a media outlet can charge for an ad.

The bottom line is that Viewers = Revenue.

Retaining viewers/readers ultimately requires that media outlets deliver information that is timely, accurate, well-balanced, and engaging. However, attracting them requires that outlets successfully break through the morass of news noise. How do they do that? By grabbing our attention with clever, dramatic headlines and teasing viewers/readers with lead-ins and headlines that are unexpected, outlandish, and extreme. It is a bait and hook strategy that works.

Here’s the problem: Too often, we don’t have the time to read or listen to an entire news clip or article. We merely rely on the headline and, subsequently, we become misinformed. And, when there is misinformation about health-related issues, this can lead to poor outcomes, higher cost, and, very commonly, patient confusion, frustration and disappointment.

Here a few examples:

Headline: "Study Pins Alcohol as More Dangerous Than Crack or Heroin"

Facts: This Lancet-published study evaluated 20 different drugs including cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana. Each was ranked on three dimensions: physical harm to the individual user, addiction potential, and the societal effect of the substance. The study clearly showed that an individual level, cocaine and heroine are most harmful.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.