Medical and Science Journalism
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
JOMC 560.1 (cross listed as HBEH 660 & HPM 550), Fall 2013
MW 10:00 a.m. - 11:15 a.m., Carroll Hall 340
Tom Linden, M.D.
328 Carroll Hall
|Wednesday, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. or whenever office door is open|
|linden at unc dot edu|
Course Description & Goals
The purpose of this course is to teach an appreciation of medical and science journalism and provide you with skills to report on medical, health and science news for a variety of media, principally print and online, but also broadcast (radio/TV).
As a participant in this course, you'll learn the following:
How to find news value in medical research reports.
How to integrate medical statistics from source materials into news reports.
How to research and write medical and health news stories for popular media.
Readings for the course include a text about medical
statistics, a classic book on writing well, a compendium of
great writing about health and medicine from the New York
Times, an anthology of the best science and nature writing
published in 2011, and a primer about science writing from
masters in the field. Please complete the reading assignments before
the appropriate classroom discussions. In addition to the list
below, I'll supply additional source materials and articles from
various publications. The following books are all available at
the UNC student store (and on Amazon) and copies of all the
books (except A Field Guide for Science Writers) will be
on reserve in the Park Library (second floor) in the School of
Journalism & Mass Communication. Please note that the books
on reserve in the Park Library may be earlier editions that can
be substituted for current editions. Students should also
consult the AP
Stylebook for proper style and usage for all written
1) Blum, Deborah, Mary Knudson & Robin Marantz Henig, editors. A Field Guide for Science Writers (Second Edition), Oxford University Press (paperback), 2005, $19.95, ISBN: 0-19-5174992.
2) Cohn, Victor and Lewis Cope with Deborah Cohn Runkle. News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Wiley-Blackwell (paperback), Third Edition, © 2012, 181 pp., ISBN: 978-1-4051-6096-4.3) Linden, Tom & the Writers of The New York Times. The New York Times Reader: Health & Medicine, © 2011, $24.95, 292 pp., ISBN: 978-1604264821.
4) Roach, Mary, editor. The Best American Science and Nature Writing, Mariner, © 2011, 361 pp., ISBN: 978-0-547-35063-9.
5) Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (30th Anniversary Edition), Collins, © 2006, 336 pp., ISBN: 978-0-06-089154-1.
Also, starting with the class for Wednesday, September 11, students should begin reading the print version of the Tuesday Science Times section of the New York Times. On the assigned dates, students should bring the Science Times section to class. Please consult the course schedule below for the exact dates for which the section should be read. Please note that the online version of the New York Times is not an acceptable substitute since the online and print versions do not necessarily have the same content. The New York Times is available in the UNC Student Store and is also available at a reduced rate by subscription. To subscribe, you can call 1-800-NYTIMES and ask for college subscriptions. Receiving the print edition by subscription also gives you unlimited online access.
A working medical journalist typically talks and discusses
relevant issues with colleagues and others before preparing his
or her report. This class will be no different. I'll
expect you to share your thoughts with your peers and with me.
Classroom discussion will help clarify your ideas and sharpen
your focus. You'll also be posting all written assignments on Sakai where your classmates
will critique your work.
Each undergraduate student will be responsible for one 15- to 20-minute presentation on assigned reading. Graduate students will be responsible for two presentations. I'll assign the presentations at the beginning of the second class meeting. As critical thinking and discussion with peers are so integral to the work of journalism, I'll count your presentation(s) as 15% of your final grade, with an additional 10% of your final grade based on your classroom participation throughout the semester. I'll base your grades on the quality (not necessarily the quantity) of your discussion. I'll judge quality on principally the following two criteria:
1) Whether it's clear that you've read and thought about the readings.
2) Your ability to integrate ideas gleaned both from readings and from contributions of your classmates.
After one unexcused absence, each absence will result in a drop of one letter grade. This is a graduate-level seminar, and your presence and contribution are essential. You cannot pass the course with more than two unexcused absences.
To succeed in medical journalism, you must write well. Good writing requires an understanding of the material and the ability to communicate ideas simply and clearly.
To sharpen your writing skills, you'll write a series of stories in various journalistic genres. The writing assignments will count for 75% of your final grade.
All assignments must be posted on the Sakai discussion site at least two days before they are due in class. Late assignments will not be accepted without prior permission. Even with prior permission, submission of late assignments will result in a 10-point deduction per day. Not turning in an assignment within two days of the due date will result in a zero grade. Misspelling of proper names will result in a 10-point deduction per misspelling. Misspelling of other words will result in a two-point deduction for each word misspelled. We'll follow the print style guidelines of the AP Stylebook. If you intend to pursue journalism as a career, I strongly encourage you to purchase a copy of the stylebook. As per the usual practice in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, a major factual error will result in a failing grade for that particular assignment. Fabricating sources or quotations or engaging in plagiarism will constitute a violation of the Honor Code (for more information about the UNC Honor Code, go to http://instrument.unc.edu).
There will be no midterm or final exam.
Grading Scale (for undergraduates)
98 - 100 A+
94 - 97 A
91 - 93 A-
88 - 90 B+
84 - 87 B
81 - 83 B-
78 - 80 C+
74 - 77 C
71 - 73 C-
68 - 70 D+
64 - 67 D
61 - 63 D-
60 and below F
Grading Scale (for graduate students)
93 - 100 Honors
74 - 92 Pass
61 - 73 Low Pass
60 and below F
How To Succeed in This Course
Attend classes consistently.
Complete readings before the appropriate classroom discussions.
Participate actively in class.
Ask the Professor questions either during class or during office hours if you're unclear about any aspect of the course.
Turn in stories on time, both on Sakai and in class.
Check online syllabus frequently
throughout the semester (preferably before each class) as
assignments and topics may change without e-mail notice.
AUG. 21: INTRODUCTION TO MEDICAL JOURNALISM
* Turn in Student Data Sheet that was emailed to you.
Linden, Thomas, "Learning To Be a Medical Journalist," Nieman Reports, Vol. 57, No. 2, Summer 2003, pp.66-67.
Linden, Tom, "The New York Times Reader: Health & Medicine," foreword, preface and introduction.
WEEK 2:Aug. 26: A GUIDE TO WRITING NON-FICTION
* Learn the basics of writing non-fiction.
Zinsser, William, On Writing Well, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
Aug. 28: ETHICS OF MEDICAL JOURNALISM (Jasmin)
"Aiding Those in Distress," Association of Health Care Journalists, http://www.healthjournalism.org/secondarypage-details.php?id=898
Fink, Sheri, "Investigations -- The Deadly Choices at Memorial," http://www.propublica.org/article/the-deadly-choices-at-memorial-826, published Aug. 27, 2009.
Mar, Andrew M. & Alison Page Howard, "Freedom of the Press: HIPAA & Newsgathering,"http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org//press/topic.aspx?topic=hipaa_news&SearchString=hipaa.
A Reporter's Guide to Medical
Privacy Law, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,
Scanlan, Chip, "The
First Peril: Fabrication," Poynteronline, (Adapted from Reporting
and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century, Oxford
University Press, 2000). Updated March 2, 2011.
SPJ Code of Ethics: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp?
Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists: http://healthjournalism.org/secondarypage-details.php?id=56
Zietman, Anthony L., "Falsification,
Fabrication, and Plagiarism: The Unholy Trinity of Scientific
Writing," International Journal of Radiation Oncology,
Vol. 87, No. 2, 1 October 2013, pp. 225-227.
Zinsser, William, On Writing Well, Chapters 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
SEPT. 2: No class (Labor Day)
SEPT. 4: INTERPRETATION OF MEDICAL STATISTICS (Melissa)
Cohn & Cope, News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Part I, Learning the Basics, pp. 1-68.
Leaf, Clifton, "Do Clinical Trials Work?" New York Times, July 13, 2013.
Oransky, Ivan, "How to avoid 'he said-she said' science journalism," Not Exactly Rocket Science guest blog, February 18, 2010.
Browse the web sites of the World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and the National Institutes of Health's clinicaltrials.gov.
SEPT. 9: INTERPRETATION OF MEDICAL STATISTICS (cont.)
Cohn & Cope, News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Part II, pp. 70-169.
Kolata, Gina, online at "Forty Years' War -- Advances Elusive in the Drive to Cure Cancer," also in New York Times Reader, pp. 156-162.
de Lorgeril, Michel et al., "Cholesterol Lowering,
Cardiovascular Diseases and the Rosuvastatin-JUPITER
Controversy," Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(12):1032-1036 (June 28,
Meier, Barry, "A
Clash Over a Spine Treatment," New York Times, September
Ridker, Paul et al., "Rosuvastatin to Prevent Vascular Events in Men and Women with Elevated C-Reactive Protein," N Engl J Med 2008;359:2195-2207 (Nov. 20, 2008).
SEPT. 11: NEWS STORIES (Lyndsey)
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapter 1, pp. 7-24.
Blum et al., editors. A Field Guide for Science Writers, Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5, 6.
Assignment #1: News story due Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Please upload your draft of your news story to Sakai ->
Forums -> Assignment #1 by Monday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m.
SEPT. 16: NEWS STORIES (cont.) (Kristina)
New York Times Reader, Chapters 2 & 3.
you must use embargoes, here's how to do it right,"
Epidemiology Biostatistics and Public Health, 2013, Vol. 10,
SEPT. 18: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #1
Assignment #1 due today.
Assignment #2: Rewrite of Assignment #1 due Monday, Sept. 30. Please upload your draft of your news story to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #2 by Saturday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m.
SEPT. 23: EXPLANATORY STORIES; Guest speaker
at 10:45 a.m.: Stephanie
Brown, Director, Park Library
resources from the JOMC Park Library.
Blum, Deborah & Mary Knudson,
editors. A Field Guide for Science Writers, Ch. 17
(pp. 111-117), Ch. 20 (pp. 132-137).
Gawande, Atul. "Letting Go" from The
New Yorker in The Best American Science and
Nature Writing, pp. 127-156.
York Times Reader, Chapter 7, pp. 120-155.
SEPT. 25: PROFILES (Keri)
Bilger, Burkhard. "Nature's Spoils" from The New Yorker in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, pp. 15-36.
Linden, New York Times Reader,
Chapters 5 & 6, pp. 92-119.
SEPT. 30: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #2
Assignment #2 (Rewrite of Assignment #1) due today.
OCT. 2: PROFILES (cont.) - REPORTING FROM THE EMERGENCY
DEPARTMENT - Medical Journalism Program Guest Lecturer: Judith
E. Tintinalli, MD, MS, Professor, Dept. of Emergency Medicine,
UNC-CH. Please meet at 10 a.m. at the Starbucks Cafe
adjacent to the lobby of the UNC Cancer Hospital.
Assignment #3: 900-word profile from the UNC Emergency Department due Wednesday, Oct. 23.
OCT. 7: INVESTIGATIVE & PERSPECTIVE
Reading:Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow, The (Elusive) Theory of Everything from Scientific American in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, pp. 186-190.
OCT. 9: OBITUARIES, PROFILES, & HISTORICAL STORIES
Altman, Larry, "For
3 Nobel Winners, a Molecular Mystery Solved," New York
Times, Oct. 7, 2013.
Butler, Katy,"What Broke My Father's Heart," New York Times, June 18, 2010.
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapters 9, pp. 183-197.
Also, review Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapters 5 & 6, pp. 92-119.WEEK 9:
OCT. 14: COMMENTARY: COLUMNS & ESSAYS (Kati)
Berger, Marilyn, "Lewis
Thomas, Whose Essays Clarified the Mysteries of Biology, Is
Dead at 80," New York Times, Dec. 4, 1993.
Linden, New York Times Reader,
Chapters 12 & 13.
North Carolina Health News, "Secrecy
about Food Health Program is Unhealthy," August 15, 2013.
Thomas, Lewis, The Medusa and the Snail, chapters entitled "The Medusa and the Snail," "The Wonderful Mistake," "Ponds," "To Err Is Human" and "On Cloning A Human Being" (all chapters found in electronic link in Resources folder in Sakai)
OCT. 16: NARRATIVE NON-FICTION (Tien)
Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit, "The Organ Dealer" from Discover
Best American Science and Nature Writing, pp. 1-14.
Franzen, Jonathan, "Emptying the Skies" from The New Yorker in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, pp. 69-95.
"Science Times" section from Tuesday, Oct. 15, New York Times.
OCT. 21: BLOGS
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapter 14.
Buttry, Steve, "What's the difference between a columnist and a
18, 2012, The Buttry Diary.
Zivkovic, Bora, "Blogs: face the conversation," Blog Around the Clock, July 29, 2011: Scientific American.
Zivkovic, Bora, "Science Blogs: definition, and a history," Blog Around the Clock, July 10, 2012: Scientific American.
Zivkovic, Bora, "The line between science and journalism is
getting blurry... again," Observations, Dec.
20, 2010: Scientific American.
OCT. 23: IN-CLASS CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #3
Assignment #3 due today.
Assignment #4: Rewrite of assignment #3 due Monday, Nov. 4.
OCT. 28: TRUTH-TELLING, PRIVACY, AND THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MEDICAL NARRATIVE - Guest speaker: Terrence Holt, M.D., Ph.D., Director, MA Program in Literature, Medicine and Culture, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Holt, T.E.,"Bad News,"
July 6, 2006, Boston Review.
Holt, T.E., "'O
Logos," All-Story, Vol. 4, No. 1.
Holt, Terrence E., "Narrative
Medicine and Negative Capability," in Literature and
Medicine, Volume 23, Number 2, Fall 2004, pp. 318-333.
Linden, New York Times Reader,
Chapter 11, pp. 222-243.
Sacks, Oliver. "Face-Blind" from The New Yorker in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, pp. 291-305.
NOV. 4: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #4 - guest critiquer: Dr. Judith Tintinalli, professor and chair emeritus, Department of Emergency Medicine, U. of North Carolina School of Medicine
Assignment #4 (rewrite of assignment #3) due today.
NOV. 6: NARRATIVE NON-FICTION (cont.) -
guest speaker via Skype: Wolf Pascoe, author
Reading:Pascoe, Wolf, "Breathing for Two," ebook available at http://www.amazon.com/Breathing-Two-Wolf-Pascoe-ebook/dp/B00BFWYCGK, Kindle edition, 102 pp., $2.99.
NOV. 11: REPORTING FOR THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA
Linden, Tom, "Medical Reporting for the Electronic Media," in Barbara Gastel's Health Writer's Handbook (Second Edition), chapter in Sakai's "Resources" folder.
Assignment #5: Next story assignment
due Monday, Nov. 25.
NOV. 13: WRITING THE TELEVISION SCRIPT
"Science Times" section from Tuesday, Nov. 12 New York Times.
Handout on television script writing tips
(in Resources folder of Sakai)
Blum, Deborah & Mary Knudson, editors, A Field Guide for Science Writers, pp. 35-38, 39-44, 73-78.
NOV. 18: REPORTING ON HEALTH NEWS (guest speaker: Rose Hoban, publisher of North Carolina Health News)
Please browse the North Carolina
Health News web site.
Hoban, Rose, "How
a bad relationship between NC DHHS and the press can harm
the public," News & Observer, Sept. 14, 2013.
North Carolina Health News, "McCrory
Admininistration Officials Suppressed Insight Into Medicaid,"
Oct. 8, 2013.
North Carolina Health News, "Audit Edits Eliminated Defense of Medicaid Program," Oct. 9, 2013.
NOV. 20: RADIO DOCUMENTARY
NOV. 25: IN-CLASS CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #5
Assignment #5 due today.
NOV. 27: No Class (Happy Thanksgiving)
Dec. 2: SCIENCE BLOGGING & CAREER OPPORTUNITIES IN SCIENCE
COMMUNICATION -- guest speaker: David
Kroll, Ph.D., director of science communications, Nature
Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Browse David Kroll's Terra Sigillata blog.
Browse David Kroll's other blog, Take As Directed on Forbes website.
Kroll, David, "Well,
how did I get here?" Oct. 24, 2012, post from "Terra
Kroll, David, "iAroma synthetic marijuana and the loss of Max Dobner," July 16, 2011, post from "Terra Sigillata."
Kroll, David, "Trine Tsouderos on This Week in Virology: When do you fact-check article content with sources?" post on Take As Directed, Sept. 19, 2011, PLoS blogs.
Dec. 4: Class wrap-up and evaluation
The Honor Code
The Honor Code is in effect in this class and all
others at the University. I am committed to treating Honor Code
violations seriously and urge all students to become familiar
with its terms set out at http://instrument.unc.edu.
If you have questions, it's your responsibility to ask me about
the Code’s application. All work for this class must be
submitted with a statement that you have complied with the
requirements of the Honor Code.
Professional Values and Competencies
Among the many skills students will learn in this
course, it's expected they will be able to fulfill the following
values and competencies as enumerated by the Association for
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication:
--syllabus revised Nov. 6, 2013