Shooting the messenger

John Taylor: July 20, 20070 Comments

Understanding health care is a little like writing a book about the history of China, a tad overwhelming.

So as the news business, particularly newspapering, is either reinventing or cannibalizing itself, it's getting tough to find reporters and editors who a) are allowed to specialize and given the time to learn health care; b) aren't carrying a grudge over a crowded waiting room or a high co-pay and therefore slanting their coverage; or c) aren't overlooking the good because miscues make better headlines (the old TV adage being, "if it bleeds it leads.")

Don't get me wrong. There is thoughtful, accurate writing appearing in specialty publications, on op-ed pages and in some blogs. 

But gone are the days of having a physician-reporter (as the Washington Post and New York Times once did) on staff, someone who sees past the spin of government pronouncements and who can credibly describe why  open-heart surgery may be a better option than a stent.  Going as well are news people who can comprehend and then translate for readers/viewers intricacies like Medicare's sustainable growth rate payment setup or intergovernmental transfers.

A lot of dedicated, insightful professionals -- who could throw up a caution flag on the release of a new medication or tell parents why chlorine doesn't kill every bug in a swimming pool -- have been laid off, bought out or are endlessly looking over their shoulders as they write about the Harry Potter frenzy.

We're all losers when the remaining messengers increasingly have jaundiced eyes and will never get beyond training wheels.