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October 23, 1987

Newspapers' Physician-Reporters Focus on Finding Facts, Not Offering Own Professional Advice

JAMA. 1987;258(16):2183-2188. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400160029007

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PHYSICIAN-REPORTERS entered the American newspaper scene 18 years ago when Lawrence K. Altman, MD, went to work as a full-time medical writer for the New York Times.

What distinguishes Altman and his only two journalist colleagues on major dailies from the many physicians who conduct question-and-answer or medical advice columns in the American press is their dedication to "getting the story," the same as any other reporter. "You're not just giving your own opinion," Altman emphasizes, "you're covering the news. You have to go out and interview, get the scientists to talk to you, and then get the public to understand what it's all about."

Medical writers Susan Okie, MD, of the Washington Post and Robert Steinbrook, MD, of the Los Angeles Times concur. "One of the challenges of being a physician and writing for a general-circulation newspaper is to write about complicated medical issues clearly so that the same