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bias, diversity, health journalism, media, nursing, Woodhull study



  1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN
  2. Glickstein, Barbara MS, MPH, RN
  3. Westphaln, Kristi PhD, RN, CPNP-PC


Purpose: In a 2018 replication of a 1997 study, the Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media, nurses were identified as sources in only 2% of health news stories in the same print publications investigated in the earlier study, showing no improvement in 20 years. We sought to interview health journalists across a spectrum of media to better understand their perceptions of the barriers and facilitators to using nurses as sources in news stories.


Methods: This qualitative study employed a snowball sampling technique to obtain a sample of 10 health journalists. One-to-one semistructured telephone interviews using open-ended questions were conducted and recorded, and thematic analysis was performed on the transcripts.


Results: Analysis of the transcripts revealed an overarching theme of biases about women, nurses, and positions of authority in health care among journalists, newsrooms, and public relations staff in health care organizations and universities that impeded journalists' use of diverse sources in health reporting. Subthemes were that 1) when used as sources, nurses can enrich a story; 2) health journalists don't understand the range of nurses' roles, work, and education; 3) health journalists don't know how to find nurses to interview for news stories and have little time to do so; 4) communications staff of health care organizations and universities aren't offering nurses as sources; 5) editorial biases, policies, and processes can get in the way of journalists using nurses as sources; and 6) nurses and the nursing profession aren't strategic about engaging journalists.


Conclusions: Because nurses as sources can enhance the quality of health news, health journalists should become more aware of their biases and strive to include more nurses, as well as more women and people of color overall, in their stories. Nurses and nursing organizations can do more to reach out to journalists and public relations staff to raise awareness of nurses' expertise.