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This content is taken from the EIT Food, University of Reading & European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)'s online course, Food and Nutrition: The Truth Behind Food Headlines. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds We can all think of instances where media articles have misrepresented the true story. The same is unfortunately true in nutrition as well. Journalists are chasing readership, and they need to make the stories eye catching and appealing for the public, which can lead to nutrition articles containing sensationalist reporting, alarmist headlines, or contradictory information. Often this can result in confusion or distrust in dietary recommendations. A study in 2017 assessed nutrition newspaper articles in popular national daily newspapers in the UK over a six week period to identify the quality of the newspaper articles and their ability to represent the research. Five of the highest circulating tabloid and broadsheet national newspapers in the UK were examined.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds Printed editions of the five newspapers reflected on six days of the week, Monday through Saturday, for six weeks. This process was carried out twice by two researchers independent of each other. From this the original research article that the story was based on was located. The article was then reviewed and scored using a validated tool. We’ll talk more about this tool later on the course. In total 141 articles were published over the six week period in five different newspapers. 44 articles were rated poor quality, and 97 were rated satisfactory quality. There were no high quality articles. What was interesting was the low quality articles tends to be published by no named journalist.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds Journalists are in a great position to shape our social norms and attitudes to food and nutrition through the choices of topics that they choose to publish, and therefore they may influence our understanding of and appetite for particular stories. Journalists often rely on press releases in order to put together newspaper articles. Press releases give the scientific community an essential opportunity to engage with the media. They are key to determining what news outlets cover and help journalists to make sense of the science. But evidence suggests they can contribute to the hype with overstatements in journal an academic press releases leading to exaggeration in subsequent news stories. Journalists have the complex role of translating scientific information to the lay public.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 seconds And it’s important that the authors have sufficient understanding to ensure the correct balance between portraying scientific information accurately, and making the information clear and readable. This is where the role of the scientist is so important.

How journalists produce their news

Watch this video to hear about the purpose of journalism, how the system of news media operates and its impact on the message

How do journalists balance interesting headlines with honest information? Share your thoughts in the discussion area below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Food and Nutrition: The Truth Behind Food Headlines

EIT Food