Thursday, December 10, 2009

Demise of the Magazine Industry, and What It Means for Health Information

This entry at Weightless got me thinking about the role of Internet reporting and blogging in the way that health information is disseminated among women. (I'm copping out of answering the question posed in the headline, because while I don't think that the master's tools will dismantle this particular master's house, I do think that progress is being made--I'm particularly pleased to see that Marie Claire fashion blogger Ashley Falcon is not only regularly blogging about plus-size fashion for a major women's magazine, but is actually plus-size--so much body image focus has been on women who are "in between," which is important to look at but doesn't really further the goal of body acceptance for all.)

I fear that the movement away from traditionally produced magazines toward user-generated content and free labor will only make things worse. There will be voices of sanity out there, but the very nature of the web--bits and clips that will grab our attention and make us want to click--ensures that the holistic nature of any health plan will be diluted to the point of being lost altogether. Say that a women's health website has good intentions. In order to generate daily content, they will need health news. Health news comes in bits and pieces--this nutrient was proven to reduce this symptom in this study; this study showed a reduction in X when subjects did Y. In the minutiae, the essence of health is lost. The holistic approach to health--i.e., the healthy approach to health--isn't sound-bite-friendly. Scientific studies, by their nature, are extraordinarily limited in scope. They often isolate one cause and one effect in order to contribute to a larger body of study.

Print isn't immune to this, naturally: A good magazine editor wants to maximize the takeaway her readers will get from every word of information printed, especially in bitsy, designy pages (like the health content of most women's magazines). So if there's a study about how depression is a risk factor for osteoporosis, an editor might want the takeaway to be about getting enough calcium if you're depressed--it's something that the reader can take action on immediately. The problem, of course, is more complex: If you're depressed, you're less prone to do exercise, especially of the osteoporosis, weight-bearing kind; you're also less likely to feed yourself properly, including getting enough of the nutrients that would not only help with your brain chemistry, but also with your bone health. Treating the depression could lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis, and treating depression requires a holistic approach, often combining psychotherapy, medication, behavior and lifestyle changes...that is, nothing sexy, or new, or saleable on the newsstands. But "The Secret Disease You Don't Know You're At Risk For, p. 147" feels like all of those things.

Now: A magazine editor who is trained for her position and makes a living at her craft is also conscious of the true needs of her readers--it's part of what makes a good editor. But web laborers, even those who are skilled writers, editors, and curators, are also more at the mercy of the attention economy than print journalists. And those reductive views of health information are worth more in such an economy.

It goes the other way too, happily: A peek at the number of bloggers committed to creating a dialogue about health, body, food, eating reveals that the two-way information flow can also easily lend itself to a more complete understanding of those issues. I don't know enough about the arc of the web to predict what effect Internet info will have on health reporting and writing, or of readers' understanding of health. But I know enough about the print world to say that the constraints it's under don't set a template of optimism.

No comments:

Post a Comment