essay

Apr 4, 2003

“People don’t read. They don’t read long articles. They don’t like front-page articles that continue on the inside pages. They only read headlines and captions.” I hear this over and over, and I don’t buy it for a minute.

Yes, we do live in a world of news saturation and information overload, in a society that keeps us in long commutes or racing between commitments, in communities where entertainment is more and more in home living rooms rather than in public spaces. We need reminders that reading is important, that critical thinking is crucial, that being up on current events is a necessary part of citizenship and parenthood and employment.

What I suggest is that we raise the bar once again. Journalists, I believe, can do this in a simple way: read ourselves, be seen reading, talk about reading, ask about reading, and expect others to read. And resist the

I am not an expert on any subject, but what I stive for is to be able to talk to anyone about anything. I aim to be ready to ask an informed question about someone’s field or job or hobby or hometown. And so I read, voraciously and widely. When I ask a question of someone, I mention a recent article, or a news itme I heard on public radio, or a website that features the topic. And then I ask that person what he or she has recently read; I want people to read, and so I show an interest in reading. Similaryly, I carry a magazine or book or newspaper at all times.

Weblogs are the equivalent of walking with an armful of magazines. Blogs are frequently updated websites in which an author writes short postings about current events, and includes links to relevant content on other sites. When weblogs first started, they were links to newly created web pages; later, as the web grew exponentially, weblogs filtered the web to provide the best or most interesting sites. Now, weblogs are used to comment on articles or pictures or video files posted to sites. Often, these are news media sites.

While there’s much debate about whether blogs are journalism, I believe that journalists can use blogs to promote reading. At the least, we can use blogs to celebrate the best of journalism.

For example, I’ve created a site called MedicalJournalism.info. Here I try to point out health reporting that is well written, informative, clear and interesting. I search for good writing and reporting because I want to emulate the masters of science and medical journalism; doing what the pros do has long been the first way of learning a skill. But posting links to excellent articles is also a way of leading other readers to articles that will enlighten them, inspire them, educate them.

Perhaps this is a quixotic quest. But perhaps not. The web is a wonderful world, and science and health are deeply ingrained in our use of the web. The Pew Research Center says that “two-thirds of all Americans expect to find reliable health care information online.” So science and health reporters – whether for TV, radio or print – should incorporate online health sources into our daily routines. We need to be aware of what health information is online, from studies in respected journals to patient griping on listservs.

I planned for medicaljournalism.info to be a collaborative effort, and I welcome any student or professor or journalist to the team. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more voices we have clamoring for more reading, more reading just may be what we get. And that’s good for a graduate student who will soon be looking for a job as a writer.

Anton Zuiker

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