The Press has covered health with dedicated beat reporters for years. But this increased emphasis in what appears to be a health section is interesting for several reasons. First, as newspapers struggle for survival, this looks to be a good response to providing increased coverage of an important subject that helps readers make informed decisions. That's the essence of the journalism role, not more pandering to fluffy entertainment. Also, the Press is responding to the local health care industry and related topics. As everyone knows, wire stories about basic health information is easy to have from WebMD and numerous other online sources.
The Press emphasis on health care affirms the growth of "health communications" as a speciality practice within PR during the past two decades. GVSU has had an undergraduate health communications major for decades (we are finally ramping it up with a dedicated PhD faculty member this fall), other colleges have master's and PhD programs in health communications, and there are several journals dedicated to research in the subject that ranges from doctor-patient relationships, to public health campaign strategies, to direct-to-consumer drug advertising. Additionally, PRSA has a Health Academy for health care professionals to network and continue their professional development.
So, since the Press and the PR industry have embraced the importance of health care, how will the two work together locally? How might the Press work with local health care organizations to better inform local residents on health topics? It would be interesting if this could go beyond pitching stories. For example, could there be some online linking of objective medical info between the Press at MLive.com and the wealth of health information at Spectrum Health's Web site? The Press could still do objective reporting, but supplement it with the health communications from area professionals. It's a win for the Press, the health organizations, and the public.
It also would be interesting to see the Press do a story on the growth of health communications as a profession of interest to many current and future PR practitioners.