The University of Newcastle, Australia

Globally recognised Hunter health group seeks pledges

Friday, 11 August 2017

A globally recognised public health initiative founded at the University of Newcastle (UON) and since adopted internationally is embracing the world of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to re-establish itself in Australia.

Dr Amanda Wilson

The organisation, Media Doctor Australia, was established in Newcastle in 2004 as a "rating system" for health journalism, helping journalists to improve their craft, and the public better understand the quality of the information they were reading. Media Doctor won the $10,000 Australian Museum Eureka Award for Critical Thinking in 2005 and inspiring related ventures still running successfully in America, Japan and Germany before going into hiatus in Australia in 2012.

Now, with the encouragement of the UON, the Media Doctor Australia team is about to embark on a crowdfunding exercise through the website Pozible to raise the $5000 needed to reboot the venture into the new digital age of the "citizen journalist".

"The Media Doctor project will be an open access online resource where interested people can be ‘trained’ to assess the accuracy of health news stories. We want the website to become self-sustaining using the input and expertise of volunteers who will analyse media content, find stories and provide star ratings and comments. The results will be posted for everyone to see," said Media Doctor co-founder, Dr Amanda Wilson, a senior lecturer at UON's School of Nursing and Midwifery.

The Media Doctor team are hoping that enough people will see the benefit in what Media Doctor has to offer, and pledge to the crowdfunding campaign to reach the required target funding amount.

"The rise of online health information and ‘fake news’ makes it hard to know which information to trust.  Most people learn about new health interventions through the media and many people make important decisions about their health based on this information.

"There are no courses in critical thinking for assessing health information in the media. But you don’t need to be scientist or doctor to assess the value of most health stories. While poor health stories are potentially harmful, quality stories are reliable and provide a good source of information. This project is something everyone can benefit from," Dr Wilson said.

For those who doubt the public's reliance on print and online media for health information, Dr Wilson cites the publicity surrounding Kyle Minogue's breast cancer diagnosis.

"News of her diagnosis filled the media and as a result there was a 100-fold increase in the number of young women booking mammograms. No extra cancers were detected because for most women of this age there is no benefit in having a mammogram. Instead these women were unnecessarily exposed to radiation, anxiety and cost. This was a direct result of media coverage, despite most stories stressing the fact that mammograms were inappropriate and discussing other forms of breast checks. Young women were worried enough by the news to seek reassurance in the form of an invasive, uncomfortable, expensive and potentially harmful procedure."

As well as Dr Wilson, the Media Watch Australia team boasts a group of health professionals, media and communications experts, and researchers, all of whom have volunteered their time and energies over the years to spread the Media Doctor message.

Related news