How journalists are overcoming the challenges of global health reporting

Lessons learned from supporting 19 journalism projects on global health

Photo: Ashish Sharma, project: Silicosis — The Silent Killer

The topic of global health offers a broad range of fascinating reporting issues. Through our Global Health Grant Programmes, we’ve learned it is about much more than medical treatment, often touching upon other global topics like climate change, international trade or migration. Yet, the topic is still not covered regularly in many European countries like Germany and France. So, why is this?

High production costs

One reason are the high production costs — journalists have to take their time for the travel, and the expenses for doing research in developing countries are considerable. Journalists usually need a local journalist, fixer or translator to work with, sometimes even a driver with a car or someone to ensure their safety. Often they want to take along a professional photographer, or even a camera crew. There are journalists’ visa and accreditations to pay for, which can be expensive, especially when it comes to filming permits.

To make in-depth research on the ground possible despite these costs, we set up our Global Health Grants Programmes. But the challenges of this type of reporting don’t end there.

Pitching an unfamiliar topic

The topic of global health is at the editorial intersection of health, science and world and often seems unfamiliar to newsrooms. Here, extra time researching who might be the right editor to pitch to is worth investing. Our grantees experienced that editors sometimes felt the health topics reported from developing countries were too far away from their audience. This is why it is extremely important not to report on a topic, but to tell a story. Pitches should be short and precise and explain why it is worth publishing this story now.

In some cases, this approach helped to give the story a surprising angle, for example in the reportage Measles Eradication on what Germany can learn from Tanzania with regards to measles vaccinations.

Another approach for a successful pitch, according to a health editor from The German magazine Spiegel Online, is to personalize a story, telling it through strong characters, adding impressive images, photos or videos. As such, audiences are being taken to the location, are enabled to identify with the characters, get a feeling for the topic and access the story through empathy.

This worked well in the web doc one grantee produced about women suffering from Fistula in Africa. If journalists are unknown to the newsroom they are pitching to, editors point out it is important to demonstrate their ability to produce great content or write really well with one or two similar work samples, ideally combined with strong visuals.

Global health stories are popular

Despite the above, it turns out that global health stories can get a lot of attention. For example, the reportage on the fate of women in Africa with Fistula already mentioned, originally rejected by a major German news magazine, when published by another one (Spiegel Online) got nearly 3 million unique page views.

The editor of a series in a major daily newspaper in Germany (Süddeutsche Zeitung) reported that the articles on the effects of violence on health “were very well received, we had an excellent reader engagement in most of them, an unusually high percentage finished reading the article”. A story which investigated the opportunities for 3D technology in cheap prostheses for the 30 million in need worldwide got more than 150,000 page views on a German news magazine (Spiegel Online).

Reporting on global health has other benefits

Other journalists reported that thanks to their in-depth reporting on global health they were able to establish valuable new contacts to editors who wanted more stories on such topics once they saw their audiences engagement. In addition to this, they also forged collaborations with local journalists in the areas they were covering.

In one example, a Kenyan journalist had the promising idea to investigate into fake medicine and their devastating effects in Africa, and teamed up with a German science journalist who had the necessary contacts to German media outlets.

Now it’s your turn: new Global Health Grant Programme for France (closed)!

The European Journalism Centre has been supporting the global health coverage of German journalists with grants for more than a year.

Taking everything we’ve learned, we have now launched a similar Global Health Grant Programme for French journalists.

Political decision makers in France — just like in Germany — have realised that Europe should not only feel concerned by global health in cases of pandemics like Ebola or the SARS virus. Recognising interrelations between healthcare, development and stability, the new French government has increased investments into global health lately. But the media coverage of the topic is not reflecting this increased attention yet. The EJC’s Grant Programme for France is aimed at increasing the scope and quality of global health reporting.

If you’re interested in receiving a grant to cover these topics, head over to our grants page to find out more.

If you have any questions about the application: We’ll answer them in individual AMA Skype sessions — en français — on 18 April. Reserve your slot at sante@journalismgrants.org!