Malaysian experience of training journalists in understanding research evidence: A Cochrane Geographic Groups Consumer Engagement and Involvement Challenge Fund project
2Freelance heatlh journalist, Malaysia
Background: Apart from a small single workshop conducted by Cochrane Malaysia in 2014, there is little to no training available for journalists on understanding health research evidence. In 2019, Cochrane Malaysia received a grant under the Cochrane Geographic Group Consumer Challenge fund to engage the media.
Objectives: To help journalists understand the value of systematic reviews, particularly Cochrane reviews, know where to look for reliable sources of health information and be able to report the findings of Cochrane reviews accurately.
Methods: In partnership with two journalist associations, we designed and conducted a series of 1-day workshops. The workshops covered characteristics of and barriers to credible research. We included a hands-on session in understanding and reporting a Cochrane review plain language summary. Trainers included a journalist who had formal training and experience in health journalism and two Cochrane systematic review trainers. Evaluation of the workshops was by immediate feedback and searching the mainstream media for mentions of Cochrane after completion of the workshops.
Results: Between 2020 and 2022, we conducted three workshops across the country, attended by 29 participants. The participants included journalists, social media writers, science communicators, journalism lecturers and students. The overall immediate feedback was good—the most common comment was that it was an eye-opener. Compared with 2019 and earlier, there was an increase in mentions of Cochrane in the Malaysian press, mainly COVID-19 related. Another possible reason for this might be due to the active dissemination of COVID-19–related reviews during this time. There was also an opportunity to develop collaborative learning with a local university as a result of the workshops.
Conclusions: Training may be an effective strategy for increasing Cochrane’s presence in the Malaysian media. However, this needs to be complemented by relationship building and mentoring, including advocating for health and medical journalism to be included in the local journalism curriculum.
Patient, public and/or healthcare consumer involvement: Training journalists would contribute to providing the public with reliable information about health.