Communicating Public Health in the Media

Monday, June 18, 2018 - Tuesday, June 19, 2018 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM

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Course Description

This course will provide early and mid-career scientists with a toolkit for engaging non-experts in public health discourse through coverage of their work in mainstream media outlets. As a pragmatic science focused on the health of populations, public health is of inherent relevance to consumers of mass media, and its accurate and engaging portrayal is crucial to informing public conversation about health policy. The course will provide a bridge between the distinct orientations of scientists (who want to know, “what's next?”) and the public (which wants to know, “what does this science mean?”) by exploring the real-world impact of media coverage of public health on science and society; by examining how journalists and editors determine whether they will cover scientific findings and public health initiatives; and by highlighting typical communication glitches between scientists and non-experts and emphasizing techniques to avoid them in both verbal and written formats. The course will provide a survey of the mainstream media landscape, as well as convey the limitations of health and science coverage in these venues, emphasizing in lectures, discussions and workshops how participants can tap their strength as writers and speakers to bring their work to an interested public.


Understanding journalistic mechanics and priorities is an asset to any scientist who wishes to join the public discourse as a writer, speaker or sought-after expert.


All registrants should bring a laptop computer or other materials, such as pen and paper, to write with.

Course Objectives

The primary objective of this course is to provide students with the tools to effectively communicate public health science to non-experts. To reach that objective, students will (1) learn the attributes of compelling mainstream media science coverage; (2) practice translatingscientific jargon into layman's terms; (3) understand the use of social media for communication by composing sample Twitter and Facebook conversations; and (4) draft a pitch letter to an editor or detailed outline that will serve as the roadmap for their piece.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify opportunities to bring a public health issue into the news landscape by zeroing in on the “scoop” in their science
  • Understand the components of successful translation of science into meaningful and accurate layman's terms
  • Dissect and map the anatomy of a mainstream health or science piece, and understand how it differs from a journal article, press release and informational content (such as that found on government websites like MedlinePlus)
  • Draft a pitch letter to an editor or reporter
  • Use social media to engage the public in scientific discourse

This course will not include:

  • Media training (i.e. messaging) per se, though many of the techniques we discuss are critical to successful participation in contexts in which participants may be interviewed by journalists
  • Instruction in techniques for television appearances


No experience with communicating in mainstream media is assumed. Participants should come prepared with at least one idea they would like to develop for publication as a news story, feature story or commentary by a journalist or themselves. Students are expected to workshop their assignments with their instructor and classmates.

Course Reading List

There are no required readings but the following are highly recommended:


Jordan Lite, MPH

Jordan Lite is a managing editor at Weill Cornell Medicine with two decades of experience covering health for general-interest publications. She spent five years reporting on public health and medicine for the New York Daily News, and before that was a general assignment reporter for The Associated Press. Ms. Lite was also the lead writer for Scientific American’s first news blog, 60-Second Science. Her freelance work has been published in Newsweek,The Nation, Prevention, SELF, Scientific American MIND, Psychology Today, Miller-McCune (now Pacific Standard) and Wired News, among other publications. Ms.Lite holds a MPH in sociomedical sciences from the Mailman School and an AB with honors in biomedical ethics from Brown University.

Course Fee

Registration for this course is $800.00


The registration period has closed for this event.


Hammer LL110

Hammer Health Sciences Building
701 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032

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