Journalists, more commonly than other professionals, may be able to transmit complex scientific information about HIV/AIDS in a language that is understood by the general public [1,2]. This premise led to establishment of a journalist-to-journalist (J2J) HIV/AIDS training program as a component of the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona in 2002.
Prevention of HIV infection, accessible healthcare, and HIV public policy are all issues that can be highlighted through journalism. Programs on HIV prevention, stigma, the healthcare needs of those infected by HIV/AIDS, and advocating for government intervention can all be directly affected by what journalists choose to report.
The J2J program was conceived and implemented by the National Press Foundation (NPF) as a satellite meeting in advance of the main conference. The purpose was ‘preparing selected journalists to cover the International AIDS Conferences, and then to continue to cover the subject at a higher level than previously imagined’. Journalists accepted into the program did not have specialized scientific training. Following Barcelona, the program was held in Bangkok, Toronto, and Sydney in 2004, 2006, and 2007, respectively. Fellows were invited to participate on the basis of journalistic competence after submitting a successful application. Preference was given to journalists from developing countries, who are often least able to afford the costs involved or to be supported by an organization (Fig. 1). Such areas are, of course, also most at risk in regard to new infections. Financial assistance was offered by the program through a grant to the NFP by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
We were asked to evaluate the J2J program in order to assess the suitability of the curriculum content and didactic quality (process evaluation) and explore the effects of the program on journalists' reporting of HIV/AIDS (outcome evaluation). We also wished to assess journalists' perceptions as to how their training impacted coverage of HIV/AIDS, and determine whether the program had helped to better inform communities about truths (and nontruths) regarding HIV/AIDS.
Material available to us included:
- data accessible online from slide presentations at each of the J2J programs;
- evaluations completed by journalists of the program held in Sydney;
- contact information of all journalist fellows who participated;
- evaluations of the Barcelona and Bangkok programs by the National Press Foundation;
- a large sampling of news stories on HIV/AIDS written by participating journalists.
To establish benefits, two types of analyses were performed. First, a random sample of 39 news reports completed by journalists who participated in any of the J2J programs was examined for relevance and accuracy. Second, a short survey in the form of a questionnaire was distributed to participating journalists to assess overall perceived benefits.
We concluded that the program fully met its main purpose of enabling journalists to effectively transmit medical, epidemiological and scientific information to the general public in lay language. We believe that this raised interest and awareness in developing countries reallocation of resources aimed at both reducing rates of transmission of HIV and the treatment of those living with HIV/AIDS.
However, there appeared to be a shortage of information as to what journalists should be doing at a local level. Should they be querying their own local communities in regard to practices and the role of local health promotion authorities? This subject is complex, and, in some countries, journalists may feel intimidated in regard to the types of questions they might ask.
The need for education of communities is evident. Several reports have documented insufficient knowledge in populations at risk of acquiring HIV infection [3–5]. The media can help guide prevention efforts by promoting voluntary HIV testing as well as discussions of HIV/AIDS with partners regarding awareness that consistent condom use reduces HIV risk [6–9]. The World Health Organization has stated that comprehensive mass media programs are valuable in helping to change HIV/AIDS-related behavior among young people in developing countries . Education of journalists is essential toward meeting these goals.
A continuous effort to promote education of communities through written publications or radio programs, or both, might now be established using the broad human resource represented by the J2J program. The creation of material based on J2J presentations could be encouraged and carried out in other languages. Ongoing feedback from such efforts could then be used to improve the overall effort, which could be implemented and locally tailored to meet regional needs for use in subsequent initiatives.
We thank Beatriz E. Alvarado, PhD, for advising on survey implementation and assistance with data analysis. J.L.M.-C. was funded by a fellowship from the Canadian HIV Trials Network. J.L.M.-C. was responsible for program evaluation, survey design, data analysis; C.F.I. for survey design, program evaluation; S.M.S., M.N., and M.A.W. for program evaluation. All were responsible for writing the manuscript.
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