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Media Doctor Australia puts out a call for help

In the previous post, Gary Schwitzer gave an overview of an impressive upgrade to the HealthNewsReview website in the US.

In the article below, Dr Amanda Wilson describes the funding constraints upon the equivalent organisation in Australia, the prize-winning Media Doctor Australia, which faces an uncertain future.

***

Any ideas for who might like to support our project?

Amanda Wilson writes:

At Media Doctor Australia, funding has always been tight.

For this reason, we can only look on with envy at our American counterpart, the HealthNewsReview  website, which has developed in both coverage, functionality and influence thanks, in part, to funding sources of the sort that have so far eluded Media Doctor Australia.

This is despite our two organisations doing very similar work.

In fact, HealthNewsReview was inspired by Media Doctor Australia, and uses the rating instruments and scoring mechanisms developed by us. It is one of 6 international Media Doctor sites that have come into being since Media Doctor Australia was launched, including Media Doctor Canada, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and soon to be Media Doctor Sweden.

HealthNewsReview’s funding is described in the previous post. In summary, the initiative is funded by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, which pays for Schwitzer’s time, the freelance journalists that he hires, the reviewers, and for the website developments.

By contrast, Media Doctor Australia funds one project manager who is employed casually a few hours a week, and web hosting costing around $2000 a year. All reviewing, posting, blogging, tweeting and most administration is carried out voluntarily by our stable of 15 or so reviewers.

Media Doctor Australia started in 2004 with project funding from NSW Health to build the web site and undertake some pilot work. In 2005, founder David Henry and I were awarded the Australian Museum Eureka prize for Critical Thinking for our work on MDA, an honour and also a financial boon as the prize money of $10,000 paid for website hosting for several years.

For the past 7 years much of my research work has involved Media Doctor Australia in some way (primarily producing a PhD). Findings from the website have been published in high impact medical journals, including PLoS Medicine, PLoS One and the Medical Journal of Australia.

It has been this research, rather than Media Doctor Australia itself that has attracted a few small grants from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, and the University of Newcastle. These have allowed us to develop the site and its research tools.  Over the years we’ve applied, without success, for NHMRC and ARC funding.

Due to the low running costs of the site, we have enough money to see us to the end of 2012. But the volunteer effort in a time-short world is starting to take its toll, and Media Doctor Australia may fold unless suitable funding can be found.

One big difference between funding in Australia and the United States is the degree of philanthropic support available in America.

As the previous post shows, Health News Review has been able to avail itself of this through the not for profit Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, but similar money in Australia is very hard to find, let alone win.

It is understandable that Australian research organisations are reluctant to commit scarce funds to Media Doctor Australia. But unlike the USA, we have been unable to find alternative support.

The Americans are highly focused on evidence-based outcomes and it’s clear that the US funding sources supporting HealthNewsReview clearly believe their money is being spent wisely.

Until now, Media Doctor Australia has restricted its funding requests to formal research channels but the successes of HealthNewsReview are an indication that we need to explore alternative sources of support.

Do Croakey readers have any suggestions?