TV producer hails medical journalism

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Photo by Joyce Xi.

In an afternoon away from the studios of “World News with Diane Sawyer,” Emmy-nominated ABC producer Susan Schwartz SPH ’80 shared her belief in the value of reporting about medical issues.

Schwartz, who focuses on medical topics for the nightly news program, spoke to a group of about 20 students Monday evening in the Branford Common Room about her hope to educate people about medicine through the stories she produces. As students asked questions about the evolution of journalism and TV news, she frequently emphasized the power of “storytelling” to influence how people behave.

“When we do a health story, it’s particularly gratifying because you can save a life,” she said.

Schwartz, who is a registered nurse, said sheshared a clip of a story she produced for ABC News in May 2011 about a woman who lost her voice for four months after getting over a cold. When the woman’s friends heard a National Public Radio story featuring a person with a similar condition, they recommended that she see a doctor, who was able to identify her ailment and treat her condition in a few minutes. Once the story was aired on ABC News, Schwartz said, she heard that another woman decided to seek help for the same condition.

Schwartz said telling stories about cancer research can have a similar effect by informing those with cancer about anticipated advances in treatment. Still, “it’s a delicate dance — you don’t want to give false hope,” she said. Schwartz said she takes pride in producing content that is “solid and accurate,” since she believes viewers are looking for something more credible than many of the news sources that are widespread on the Internet.

Schwartz pointed to the January 2011 shooting of 19 people including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who will be stepping down from her seat this week, as an example of ABC producers working hard to ensure accurate information. While the other news sources reported Giffords as having died, she said, ABC chose to wait until they could verify their information.

Schwartz called herself “a catching producer” who works in New York, rather than out in the field for assignments. She described TV producers as those who develop a “nugget of an idea” and find the pictures to tell the story. Schwartz said during her 20 years at ABC, she has seen resources for foreign news bureaus decrease, but she encouraged students to go into the “new burgeoning field of medical journalism.”

“We try to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice around the world,” she said.

Three attendees interviewed said they were impressed by how a single news story could have a real affect on people’s lives. Aly Moore ’14, who said she is often skeptical of information presented by the media, said she could see from Schwartz’s words how “news presentation can actually affect public opinion.”

Schwartz was nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism in a Regularly Scheduled Newscast.”

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