Today is the 8th annual Diabetes Blog Day, a online community activism initiative started by fellow type 1 and D-Blogger Gina Capone back in 2005 (when the online community was so very much smaller!).
Aside from the actual theme this year, November 2012 marks a very special and happy D-Blog Day for its founder and our entire community because Gina gave birth to a beautiful baby boy this past Monday! Congratulations, Gina! We are unspeakably happy for you!
Now, on to D-Blog Day: The 2012 theme is confronting the mainstream media; we're all encouraged to write an open letter to any print, broadcast or online media outlet about handling diabetes — why it's important for them to cover it, what have they gotten right or wrong, and what the reporters and editors need to know when relating diabetes topics to the general public.
As two folks with college degrees and professional backgrounds in journalism, Amy and I agree that this a great effort to both raise awareness in general and to hopefully help ensure accuracy in how diabetes is covered and portrayed.
So, here's the letter I plan to send to my local newspapers in the Indianapolis area and also to a few outlets in southeast Michigan and Detroit, where I'm originally from and where my wife and I hope to move back to some day.
As you may know, this is one of the most visible times of year when it comes to all things diabetes.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month here in the United States and has been recognized as such since 1975. It began getting congressional and presidential acknowledgment in the early 1980s. November 14 also marks annual World Diabetes Day, which became widely recognized in 2006 when the United Nations passed a resolution on addressing diabetes worldwide.
While there are many local and national activities planned relating to diabetes this month, I wanted to make sure you took a moment to consider how your publication covers this important health topic during every month of the year. This is very important to me personally, as I've not only been living with type 1 diabetes since age 5 but am also a journalist who's worked for weekly, daily and metro newspapers and am currently working as an editor and reporter at a well-known diabetes news blog.
Sadly, we've seen numerous errors in diabetes coverage that are too often a simple matter of the reporter or publication not understanding what they are writing about.
So many of the stories simply perpetuate stereotypes: that all people with diabetes are obese or don't get enough exercise, that kids can't eat sugar or sweets, or that insulin must be injected if blood sugar levels get too low (this is not only erroneous but life-endangering inaccuracy!)
But the most common problem is that newspaper and broadcast reports do not adequately distinguish that there are two main types of diabetes, if they do at all.
Here are the very basics that anyone covering this illness should know and clarify in their reporting: The most common form is type 2 diabetes, in which the body becomes resistant to the insulin present, and is closely associated with lifestyle factors. The less common form is type 1, an autoimmune condition in which the body's own immune system kills off the cells that produce insulin, therefore the person needs to take injected insulin for the rest of their lives to survive. No amount of special dieting or exercise will make this condition go away. Neither form of diabetes is brought on simply by eating too much candy, and yes — after diagnosis, people with diabetes still can eat sugar, in moderation and with an eye to controlling their blood sugar levels, of course.
As a reporter, I hate it when errors occur — from typos to misquotes to misinterpretations. The last thing I want to hear is that I got something wrong... but it happens. We're all human. So if a correction or clarification is needed, that's not something we reporters should shy away from. After all, it's a matter of credibility.
In the case of diabetes, sometimes the impact of misinformation can hardly be undone.
Think of it this way: it's like reporting in a front page morning story that a particular company has just gone bankrupt and is laying people off, when in fact it's a different company. By the time you get it right, the original story has led to the company's stock tanking and people pulling business. The damage is done, no matter how you correct it the next day.
When stories appear claiming that type 1 is preventable (which it's not), that insulin shots are needed for a low blood sugar (NO, insulin brings down blood glucose highs!), or that kids with diabetes can't eat cake, those impressions stick. Someone forms a certain attitude toward a friend or relative with diabetes. Someone mistakenly thinks they need to give insulin to a person experiencing a blood glucose low and that leads to a coma or death. A child in a classroom birthday party breaks down in tears because her teacher singles her out and excludes her from a treat that every other child is getting, and then classmates start teasing her for "being different."
What I'm saying is that in the case of diabetes, getting the story right could possibly be a matter of life and death.
So I implore you to use November as a time to take advantage of the new accuracy-in-diabetes-reporting program unveiled by the non-profit Diabetes Advocates group recently. A group of informed patients are making themselves available as sources.
From a Diabetes Advocates news release:
"Despite the fact that media outlets are reporting on diabetes more than ever, the condition is still widely misrepresented and portrayed as only one disease — when in actuality diabetes is made up of several different diseases (type 1, type 1.5 or LADA, and type 2 being the most predominantly confused). By emailing the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org, reporters can quickly fact check, get suggestions and have a real-time conversation with the Diabetes Advocates to ensure the accuracy of their articles."
"With representation from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and Actor's Equity (AEA) within the organization, the Diabetes Advocates can also serve as information sources to entertainment outlets.
"Our goal is to stop being reactive and start being proactive... By making ourselves available to media and entertainment outlets, we are seeking to be a part of the solution."
I'm very proud and excited to count myself among the members of this organization who are on hand to connect with any reporters who might seek help with their research. We're looking forward to it!
Here's your chance. Please work with us in making sure the best and most accurate information is getting out. And not only at your own publication, but please help us spread the word — let others in the industry know, too! I'm looking forward to seeing you be a part of the solution for the betterment of your readers,the existing diabetes community and the millions of Americans who are at risk for this disease.
So, what would you want to share with your local newspaper editors and reporters about how they cover diabetes? Any specific examples, good or bad, that stand out in your mind?
Don't forget to check out the other D-Blog Day 2012 posts from the Diabetes Online Community, either by following the Twitter hashtag #dblogday or checking out a list of posts at the Diabetes TalkFest blog!