National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
December 13, 2011 • Volume 8 / Number 24

Community Update

Communications This article is part of a series of stories related to cancer communications. You can read more articles in the series here.

Cancer News Workshop Helps Latin American and U.S. Journalists Interpret Research Results

The second annual Inter-American Workshop for Scientific Journalism on cancer research, co-sponsored by NCI and held last month in Guadalajara, Mexico, drew 38 journalists from seven Latin American countries and 2 journalists from Hispanic media outlets in the United States. They came to learn how to more accurately evaluate and report on the impact of cancer in their communities and present cancer research findings on screening and new treatments.

Twice the number of reporters and editors attended this year compared with last year's workshop in Brazil, noted Nelvis Castro, associate director of Multicultural and International Communications at NCI. Attendees were also more diverse this year, representing newspaper, radio, and TV outlets from some of Latin America's largest cities, she said. Participants came from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, the United States, and Uruguay.

Participants at the Inter-American Workshop for Scientific Journalism Latin American journalists learned how best to report on cancer research at the workshop.

The workshop, which was made possible with support from Mexico's Universidad de Guadalajara and Universidad de Sonora, is held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the United States–Latin America Cancer Research Network (US–LA CRN), which was launched in 2009 by the NCI Office of Latin American Cancer Program Development (OLACPD). The US–LA CRN is a research partnership involving NCI and the governments and biomedical institutions of five Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Its mission is to collaborate on state-of-the-art cancer research in Latin America.

This year, the program committee honed the workshop agenda to better meet the needs of the attendees, Castro said. Unlike the 2010 workshop, "we had mostly Spanish-speaking presenters this year, including for all of the scientific presentations," she said. That included Dr. Marcia Cruz-Correa of the University of Puerto Rico Comprehensive Cancer Center, who spoke on cancer screening studies; Dr. Ignacio Miguel Musé Servrini of Uruguay's Programa Nacional de Control del Cáncer, who addressed cancer in Latin America; and Dr. Antonio Tito Fojo, head of the Experimental Therapeutics Section in NCI's Center for Cancer Research.

This year's agenda also paired each scientific presenter with seasoned Latin American or U.S. health care and cancer journalists, who offered a different perspective on the cancer research topics. Whereas the scientific speakers focused on providing accurate and engaging accounts of the latest research developments, the journalists talked about "their unique approaches to covering that research area, and shared tools and tips they use to decide if a study is newsworthy and where to go for expert advice in making that evaluation," Castro explained. The journalists providing this expert guidance were Valeria Román, a senior science reporter with the Clarin newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Dr. Ivan Oransky, the executive editor of Reuters Health.

The attendees also heard a presentation by HealthNewsReview.org's Gary Schwitzer, on how to systematically evaluate research studies and other data and findings before reporting on study results.

After each session, the journalists took part in an educational group activity, led by the session speakers, to apply what they learned. "I liked the balance between lectures and hands-on work," commented Alfredo Monferré of the Fundación Instituto Leloir in Argentina. "I think the workshop accomplished its aim, and many people left hungry for more, which is a good note to end on."

A number of the reporters published articles about the conference and the US–LA CRN when they returned home, Castro noted.

"The workshop was a fantastic opportunity to learn how to better understand and evaluate the scientific evidence and renew our commitment to covering cancer news," Román said. "The mix of perspectives—from scientists to journalists and from people who live in different countries—also helped us to feel that we are not isolated when we face the challenges of informing our citizens about cancer research."

NCI plans to host another cancer research journalism workshop in 2012, Castro said. The goal is to expand and attract writers and editors from even more diverse areas of Latin America, from outside the capital cities and from "new media" outlets, as the Internet and digital information revolution penetrate farther into the region. Workshop organizers also hope to create a network of workshop alumni to foster continued communication and dissemination of new information among journalists in Latin America, taking advantage of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Bill Robinson