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Journalists - if you've got a problem with us, come out and say it

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I don’t suppose any of you Meeja-types are reading this, are you? But just on the off-chance, I thought I’d flag up an opportunity for you to ease my temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Because I do find that one of your regular journalistic tics is causing me to clench my molars in masseter-spasmic fury.

What’s getting my TMJ’s is your lazy, provocative use of language - the way you casually imply that all doctors lie on a spectrum somewhere between feckless and evil.

If you have some sort of axe to grind with the medical profession, why not just tell us and we can debate it properly?

Three examples, off the top of my head, from recent weeks:

1 ‘Doctors dismissed it as a virus.’

2 ‘Doctors hand out antidepressants to adolescents with mental health problems.’

3 ‘Doctors’ blunders under scrutiny.’

And yes, for anyone who knows anything about anything in medicine, that’s really how it is, isn’t it? We show seriously ill, non-viral patients the door with a stern and dismissive point of the finger. We stand on street corners with a big trough of SSRIs to dish out to any hooded youth who looks a bit pissed off, which is all of them. And yes, we blunder into perfectly functioning medical scenarios and deliberately or stupidly trip over catheters, yank out IV lines and accidentally give the patient an intracardiac injection of methotrexate, whoops.

That’s actually what happens, it really does. In the mind of the reader, anyway. Try, on the other hand, swapping ‘misdiagnosed’ for ‘dismissed’, ‘prescribe’ for ‘hand out’ and ‘errors’ for ‘blunders’. Those stories aren’t undermined - and nor am I. But the image and implications for the readers are subtly different, and significantly less anti-doctor.

Look, if you do have some sort of axe to grind with the medical profession, why not just come out, tell us and we can debate it properly? Otherwise, stop the drip-drip poisoning of public perception. Because it’s not that big a leap from doctor with jaw-ache to one who becomes genuinely blundering, dismissive and profligate through progressive disillusionment. And that will be a monster of your own creation.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (31)

  • gotta sell them papers though.

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  • Tony, usually I agree with your columns 100%.

    But on this issue you're being too sensitive.

    The use of the simplest, most value-laden word ("dismissed", "hand out", "blunder") is standard in much of journalism, whether the subject under discussion is doctors, tennis players, asylum seekers, politicians, or indeed journalists themselves (Google "journalist blunder" if you doubt this).

    While I don't think this writing style helps people to get a balanced view of news issues, it is self-evidently not a conspiracy against doctors.

    There is a separate issue whereby it might appear that some papers focus disproportionately on negative doctor stories compared to, say, negative dentist stories. But the issue is the selection of stories, not the language used, which is generally similar for all subjects.

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  • This whinge piece from a chap who believes (and publishes) that patients seeking help for depression are, by definition, 'wanting a sickie'.

    Your disdain for your patients is unpleasant. Your sense of victimhood is laughable.

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  • Mr Mephisto

    It says a lot about the quality of the tosh that is sold as "journalism" these days. The most shameful journalism being pedalled at the moment is on the BBC Breakfast News. The career path seems to be weather-girl, football focus, sofa decoration mouthpiece. Bill Turnbull, Naga Munchetty, Sally Traffic, that new bloke off Football Focus. All they seem to do is read out Tweets form C-list list celebrities with no attempt at "journalism" whatsoever. They are c-grade presenters not journalists. Trade standards should be after the BBC under the Trade Description Act. "Journalism" my donkey. BBC have you no shame? Obviously not

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  • Dear Mr Glass,
    I trust that in the "third sector" a sense of humour & understanding of irony & the lowest form of wit are not essential?

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  • Who is this third sector worker posting?
    Thought pulse was for healthcare professionals

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  • Yeah if you like

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  • dear third sector worker

    I would respectfully suggest your insight into being a GP is zero.
    and that the biggest threat to GP services is lack of GPs (this surgery is closing for that very reason), one cause of the exodus being people with zero knowledge beating us over the head all the time

    best wishes

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  • Its OK Tony, The Queen is currently on their hit list so they will forget about us for at least a week.

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  • Who am I beating over the head?

    Hitlist? Blimey!

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder