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Inside the Upheaval of Journalism

Reporters Look Back on 50 Years of Covering the News


Edited By Ted Gest and Dotty Brown

In the spring of 1969, 101 students received master’s degrees from Columbia University’s prestigious School of Journalism, where they had learned the trade as it was then practiced. Most hoped to start a career in newspapers, radio, television or magazines, the established forms of journalism of that era. Little did they realize how the news world they were entering would be upended by the internet and by the social forces that would sweep through the country over the next 50 years.

This book tells the story of the news media revolution through the eyes of those in the Class of 1969 who lived it and helped make it happen. It is an insider’s look at the reshaping of the Fourth Estate and the information Americans now get and don’t get—crucial aspects of the vibrancy of democracy.

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Chapter Eight Medicine: From Gee-Whiz to Hard-Edged


Medicine: From Gee-Whiz to Hard-Edged


The half-century between 1969 and 2019 was a time of transformation in the life sciences, medical care, public health, and the journalism that chronicled those changes. I was privileged to be among the journalists charged with reporting and explaining these developments.

The beat was hardly new in 1969, when I became a medical writer straight out of the Columbia University School of Journalism. In the 1930s, a few enterprising reporters in scattered newsrooms had carved themselves a niche, writing about medicine or a combination of physical science and medicine. But the late 1960s marked an inflection point—a shift away from a credulous style of reporting, heavy on gee-whiz and “human interest,” toward a more skeptical and hard-news conception of the beat.

The five decades since have seen an explosion of coverage encompassing medicine, biomedical science, public health (global and domestic), new and complex ethical issues, the burgeoning business of health care, equitable access to it, and more. The accelerating pace of medical advances awakened editors to the need for reporters able to translate and explain these unfolding developments.

I didn’t set out to become a medical writer. All I knew was that I wanted to specialize in something, and not politics or sports. Simply, I wanted more autonomy to choose my subjects, insofar as any newsperson can hope for, and I wanted to develop some familiarity with the subject matter. So it...

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