Monday, December 8, 2008

Sharing and Global Health Blogging

How can we get more coverage of global health news when old media doesn’t seem to want to do it without outside support and new media (blogs, texting, sharedmedia) still seems a scattershot affair?

This is the fourth post in a series that began with “Rethinking Why I Blog.” The others are “What Plumpy’Nut Taught Me” and “Authentic Sharing vs. Selfish Sharing.”

One of my goals for my Nieman fellowship year was to develop a business plan for a web-based global health news service. I know, I know, “news service” is such a quaint phrase, reminiscent of teletype, telegraphs and Morse code. But it is descriptive. If it’s too old-fashioned for you, think “content platform.”

The idea was to aggregate posts from around the globe as well as to provide funding for original reporting. I further focused the goal by targeting transparency issues in global health funding by eight major organizations. I developed the plan as part of a class on non-profits that I took at the Kennedy School and pitched it to the Open Society and Ashoka folks. Both decided to pass.

Nowadays, though, I’m wondering if maybe I was just trying too hard or too soon? After all, I keep seeing efforts by individuals to write about what they find interesting or newsworthy in global health. The ones I find most interesting are not promotional or advocacy-oriented but rather add context and highlight overlooked news.

In addition to established blogs from academics in the field, e.g. Effect Measure, The Pump Handle, Aetiology, there are a few more student blogs, like these efforts from Karen Grepin at Harvard, GlobeMed at Northwestern University and Unacceptable from Brigham Young University. See others on my blogroll at right.

(Mostly US-generated, I know. Send me your recommendations for global health blogs from other countries using the comment section below!! I haven't been bowled over by what I have read in the health section of Global Voices Online. )

The development community is farther along in self-publishing. See especially blogs from organizations like DFID and the Center for Global Development as well as DFID-funded While trolling Twitter, I found “Blood and Milk,” a clear-eyed view by Alanna Shaikh of just how ethically challenged anti-poverty work can be despite good intentions.

Now that the Gates Foundation is investing in mainstream news organizations so they can cover global health news, you might say we don’t need individual efforts at reporting and commenting any more. Who needs amateurs, who post between bouts of norovirus or grant applications, when you can hire professionals [irony alert]?

And yet they write.

Update: PharmD+'s list of 100 global health blogs--three of mine are included, one of which is no longer active. But others on the list haven't been updated for quite a while either, e.g. BrownforGlobalHealth (last post Sept. 2007) and Don Burke's Global Health Blog (last post Jan. 2008).


Maryn McKenna said...

The NYT has caught up with your coverage of the Gates' grants:

As another global health reporter who, as a freelancer, struggles all the time with the cost of reporting, of course I applaud Gates spending the money on this topic. Newspapers abandoned it, and thank dog they stepped in.

Still, we must be aware of the potential conflict this creates for journalists using these grants. Gates' funding of developing-world health is extraordinary, but legitimate criticisms also have been leveled at the effort (, LA Times, Seattle Times). It's important that any/all of us who might benefit from these grants retain skepticism and intellectual independence, and that is probably harder when the organization signing the checks is doing so much good.

Christine Gorman said...

Hey, Maryn! Didn't know you are on Blogger. Have added you to the blogroll.

As for NewsHour. They'll have to put in place the same firewalls that were developed between advertising and editorial.

Otherwise, we end up losing all credibility--whether or not we work for NewsHour Maybe not today, but eventually.

There's also the "censorship of money" aspect that we know so well from health reporting.

Lots to chew on!