NCI Hosts Visit by Journalists
“Science is a sputtering course, filled with dead-ends, U-turns and blind leads; it’s not a smooth, relentless trajectory.”—James Evans
So read a slide presented by independent journalist Sonya Collins as she addressed the complexities of genomics to a classroom of reporters from across the U.S. and Canada. In an effort to enhance understanding of difficult scientific topics and make the “sputtering course” a bit less difficult to navigate, Collins was on campus as one of many speakers for the second iteration of the National Cancer Reporting Fellowships.
The workshop, hosted by the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) together with the National Cancer Institute, was designed to give 12 journalists an opportunity to interact with top experts in cancer research and learn how better to report on newsworthy scientific developments. The journalists, representing a variety of outlets from local radio and television stations to NBC News and Consumer Reports, were on campus Nov. 6-9.
“With all that’s happening in cancer research and treatment right now, reporters are being asked to explain the latest to the public, and to explain it best means really understanding it,” said Len Bruzzese, AHCJ’s executive director. “The fellowship is a chance to immerse reporters in the topics [through] exposure to key experts willing to share their knowledge and experience.”
Program sessions dealt with subjects as varied as the Cancer Moonshot, clinical trials and drug costs. During a session on cancer screening and guidelines, Dr. Barry Kramer of NCI emphasized how important it is that journalists convey strength of evidence and understand the limitations of a study design. Another session on immunotherapy featured a joint presentation by Dr. Nicholas Restifo of NCI and Matthew Ong, a reporter with The Cancer Letter and an alumnus of last year’s fellowship class who shared insights into reporting on such a complex topic.
Fellows were also given a primer on the NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program, which provides information on cancer statistics. This included demonstrations on the functionality of NCI State Cancer Profiles and the NCI Geographic Information Systems Portal, both of which are publicly available to supplement the fellows’ reporting.
Beyond the classroom, the program featured site visits as well. The fellows were given a tour of the Clinical Center, including inpatient clinics and laboratories, to learn about intramural research at NIH. Following a tour of the NCI Neuro-Oncology Branch, the fellows participated in a roundtable discussion about the NCI Rare Tumors Initiative with Drs. Mark Gilbert, Karlyne Reilly and Brigitte Widemann of NCI.
Ending on an aspirational note, the National Cancer Reporting Fellowships closed with a session titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” Wrapping up 4 days on campus, the fellows expressed an appreciation for seeing the actual operation of bench-to-bedside up close. In addition, they discussed the incredible amount of energy felt at NIH—an energy they hope to convey in future stories.