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Knowledge-based reporting of global infectious diseases
The pioneering journalism of Laurie Garrett

Declan Fahy  

I explain in this paper how Pulitzer Prize-winning American health journalist Laurie Garrett became one of the world's most influential and authoritative writers on global infectious diseases. I take Garrett as a case study of what journalism scholar Thomas Patterson and communication researcher Wolfgang Donsbach have called knowledge-based journalism. That is, journalism that applies one or more fields of specialized knowledge to the coverage of complex events, such as pandemics, in order to enhance citizens' understanding and influence policy on these new social threats. To demonstrate how Garrett came to undertake this form of journalism, I examine the key moments of her career from the 1980s, when she first reported on the new disease of AIDS for the newspaper Newsday, to her most recent journalism on the 2014 Ebola outbreak in her role as Fellow at the US think tank, the Council for Foreign Relations. Using methodological approaches from cultural and intellectual history, I analyze chronologically her news reports, books - The Coming Plague (1995), Betrayal of Trust (2000) and I Heard the Sirens Scream (2011) - policy reports and social media activity to show how she came to offer a unique, authoritative perspective on global infectious disease. I also situate these texts against the a historical background, where the new field of emerging infectious diseases (EID) developed in the 1990s as a new scientific framework for understanding novel threats such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, bird flu, and Ebola. I argue that Garrett's work is pioneering in that it offers an original way to conceptualize the work of a health journalist. I argue also that her work shows, in practice, how a knowledge-based reporter can come to wield enormous influence in the public, political, and scientific understanding of health

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