Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Cox Center, at the director's meeting in July.

Cox Center Researchers Summarize Findings of Evaluation At Meeting of Journalism Program Administrators

Journalists who participated in a public health training program were more likely to write health stories after they participated in the program, researchers from the University of Georgia reported at a meeting at Stanford University in July.

The journalists also were less likely to use individual doctors or patients as sources of stories they wrote and more likely to use health experts and government officials, the researchers said. The focus of the stories written by the journalists shifted toward health risks and the implications for society, and they were more likely to reference the CDC in their stories after the program.

The journalists were participants in the Knight Public Health Journalism Fellowship Program and the Knight Public Health Journalism Boot Camp at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the Cox Center, and Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Center, summarized the findings at a meeting of directors of journalism training programs.

The Midcareer Program and Project Directors Meeting was organized by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami. The research on which Drs. Becker and Vlad reported was conducted under a contract between the Cox Center and the Knight Foundation.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The program directors had gathered at Stanford University on July 26 to hear from evaluation experts and share findings from studies conducted of journalism training programs.

The evaluation conducted by the Cox Center included in-depth interviews with the 2002 participants in the Knight programs at the CDC and with their editors, content analysis of articles produced by the participans and by members of a control group before and after the training program, and focus groups.

Six journalists spent four months at the CDC in 2002 as Fellows, working on various projects inside the organization and familiarizing themselves with the operation of the organization. Another 12 journalists participated in a two-week intensive training program on public health issues.

“To do the content analysis, we didn’t ask the journalists to send us materials. We got them through a Lexis/Nexis data base search,” Dr. Becker said. “The control group analysis allowed us to assess the changes taking place outside the context of the Knight program.”

Dr. Vlad added that the study concluded that the health journalism training programs at the CDC programs had an impact on the journalists approach health issues, but didn’t change the technical parts of their stories.

Susan Philliber, senior partner of Philliber Research Associates, presented an overview of procedures to measure the impact of training programs at the Stanford meeting. Howard Finberg, director, interactive learning, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, reported on the successful launch in April 11, 2005, of the News University and its impact on journalists who want to improve their skills without leaving their newsrooms.