By Alifah Zainuddin, Health Writer at CodeBlue & Columnist at The Diplomat

 

Forums, in general, can be tricky for news coverage given their broad nature. But with some tips and easy tactics, they can be a gold mine for story ideas as panel discussions and interactive Q&A sessions are often packed with new information, crucial datasets, and detailed anecdotes that are equally, if not more, newsworthy.

Use this guide as a starting point the next time you struggle to find a story idea from any forums, especially on science and health, or need a little push in a creative direction.

This how-to guide has been prepared using examples drawn from the Roche Dia:gram Media Forum on “Patient Care Readiness in Asia Pacific” held virtually on September 8, 2021, in collaboration with the World Editors Forum, which is part of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

 

Data or Trend Stories

Some speakers will provide statistics in their presentations, either verbally or in their slides, that can give rise to new stories or provide depth for other pieces you may be working on.

During a panel discussion at the Dia:gram Media Forum, Vista Health founder Joe Caputo touched on the increasing usage of digital health services and self-diagnosis apps and how he anticipates this digital trend to continue rising in the next five to 10 years.

This can serve as a potential lede if your interest is in digital health or mobile health apps. You can then build on this by interviewing Mr Caputo on other trends like corporations’ annual spending to build healthcare apps or privacy issues like medical data tracking.

Additionally, there may be bite-sized reading materials provided in a forum. Sometimes event booklets and pamphlets contain snapshots of key statistics that can be used, perhaps, not as a standalone story, but as an interesting point that adds value to your piece.

For example, the Roche Dia:gram magazine, in illustrating how patients are outnumbering healthcare professionals, highlighted that new cancer cases globally are expected to rise to 29.5 million in 2040 from 18.1 million in 2018.

This acts as a good reference point for you to consider localised story angles, such as cancer trends in a particular country or region, depending on your area of interest.

 

Localised or Regional Stories

This brings us to our second point. If you’re a reporter in Malaysia, for example, you would want to keep an eye out for topics that are relevant or specific to the country, or ask questions during the forum that are related to your local context.

UC Davis clinical pathologist Dr Gerald Kost spoke about how more COVID-19 testing is needed in ASEAN nations and recommended that countries invest in their own detection technology. He pointed out that both Thailand and Malaysia already have testing guidelines in place, with Malaysia being the first country in the world to do so in 2012.

As countries like Thailand and Malaysia shift their COVID-19 strategies toward “living with the virus”, contact tracing and frequent testing will be vital in keeping the virus’ transmission under control  ̶  and that is how Dr Kost’s points on testing and new technology become relevant.

 

Expert Opinion Stories

Each speakers’ views carry significant weight, given their role as subject matter experts. Some may be regular commentators in news outlets, while others may have a substantial following on social media, for example, which can work to your advantage.

Sometimes these statements may be repetitive, or they may be stating the obvious, but the fact that they said it can, in itself, be newsworthy.

Get to know the speakers by reading their profiles and see how their expertise aligns with your interests. This simple exercise can give you a possible story angle and allows you to prepare specific questions that you can ask during the forum to produce that story in mind.

Kinghorn Cancer Centre director and genomic cancer medicine laboratory head Prof David Thomas, in his comment on the challenges of moving towards value-based healthcare, spoke about how “science is moving faster than bureaucracies”, and how existing health technology assessment processes are too “antiquated” to create data-driven systems.

 

In another example, Dr Kost highlighted the need for point-of-care strategies to be taught in schools to deal with knowledge gaps in society. The lack of know-how in the field, he said, resulted in ad hoc COVID-19 testing solutions in the US that lack resilience in the long run.

These views are clearly critical of how disease management is being broadly handled at the government level, which can spark public debates on how things can be done better.

 

Editorials and Commentaries

 The same points also provide excellent material on which to base a commentary or even an editorial piece. These forums present a wide range of views by experts from different countries that help broaden your perspective on the subject matter and add value to your analysis.

For those in radio and TV or producing podcasts and videos, such forums also provide excellent opportunities to get to know expert speakers and invite them for future interviews.

Media groups and publications looking to organise their own forums on health can also consider reaching out to these experts and inviting them as panel speakers to share their views with the group’s or publication’s target audience.

 

Anecdotal Accounts

These personal accounts may not stand as newsbreak stories on their own, but can add tremendous value, if you’re writing a feature article.

Thalassemia Patients Advocacy Group member secretary Anubha Taneja Mukherjee shared the experience of thalassemia patients in India who were struggling with blood availability during the COVID-19 pandemic, while University of Malaya’s Prof Woo Yin Ling shared how Project ROSE (Removing Obstacles to cervical ScrEening) was developed to screen cervical cancer patients in Malaysia, doing away with the traditional uncomfortable PAP smear for more discreet, less frequent and cheaper self-swab option.

Such short stories are usually relatable to a broader audience, not just medical experts and journalists who are familiar with technical terms, but survivors of serious illnesses, their families, and the general community due to their human-interest component.

As a journalist, what better way to educate people and get more people engaged in health issues that affect their daily lives than through a well-written story.

Once again, there are a lot of excellent material that you can pick up from forums. Sometimes it is not about picking up breaking developments but rather ideas that will add value or give rise to other stories in the future.

 

You can watch the full Dia:gram Media Forum at https://rochediagram.com/mediaforum/

 

Alifah Zainuddin is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist covering public health and politics in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. She currently reports for health news website CodeBlue and contributes to The Diplomat.