NASW Presents Media Forum

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


Elizabeth J. ClarkElizabeth J. Clark spoke at the event, which was held in Washington, D.C.

Media representatives and women’s health experts gathered at the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C., on May 14 to discuss how to raise public awareness of women’s health issues through television, movies and the news.

NASW Foundation and NASW communications staff collaborated with the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) to present the “Pictures This: Women’s Health” media forum. The NASW Foundation was also the lead sponsor of the event.

“NASW was pleased to work with EIC on this event,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. “Women are clearly at the center of health care discussions as mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, professionals and caregivers.”

It was reported in the November 2008 issue of the News that the NASW Foundation would be sponsoring national forums through EIC after the NASW Communications Network (NCN) was incorporated into the Foundation. NCN was designed to help producers and writers understand what social workers do and to ensure that social work issues are portrayed accurately in the entertainment media.

During the forum, participants listened to media panelists discuss the television episodic production process and the best ways to get a message out to their audience. Media panelists included Shannon Goss, writer and story editor for the final season of “ER”; Sonya Lockett, BET vice president for public affairs; Kim Stolz, news correspondent for MTV News; Suzan Olson Davis, writer and producer for TNT’s “Saving Grace”; and Erika Green, writer for the CBS show “The Mentalist.”

Bryan Dyak, president and CEO of EIC moderated the forum. Clark spoke at the beginning and end of the event.

“There are multiple overlapping issues, such as mental health, HIV/AIDS, substance use, disparities in clinical trials, early detection and caregiving,” said Clark. “Social workers know how these issues combine with the family and community dynamic. And we know how critical it is that women receive timely and accurate information through the range of media they consume.”

In attendance were medical experts, social workers, women’s health organization leaders and stakeholders who all have an interest in educating TV audiences about women’s health issues.

After listening to the panel, participants broke into groups to identify key women’s health issues and presented their findings back to the media panelists.

Suzanne Dworak-Peck, NASW past president and chair of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign Advisory Committee, attended the forum and believes the discussion that took place was an important one.

“The way social work is portrayed in the media and entertainment industry is critical not only to our clients but to the larger public audience,” she said. “Accurate portrayal of social work and social issues ensures that people are aware of social work services, every day and in times of crisis. I am very pleased that NASW continues to develop relationships with media representatives and with partners like the Entertainment Industries Council.”

NASW member Cynthia Stuen, senior vice president of policy and evaluation at Lighthouse International in New York City, as well as chair of the American Society on Aging, was also in attendance. “I was impressed with the panelists’ interest and concern for the many critical issues the participants raised,” she said. “One of my own concerns that I really stressed was that women’s health is an aging issue, from caring for children to aging parents, it covers the lifespan and I believe the panelists’ heard that message.”

The conversation that took place will be transcribed and expanded into a resource guide for hundreds of creative professionals in the entertainment industry.

Participants discussed the “Sandwich Generation,” women who are caring for children or grandchildren and aging parents. Unwed mothers, unplanned pregnancies, and women veterans were also addressed. Attendees stressed the importance of emphasizing to female audiences how crucial it is for them to seek care, noting that they tend to focus on the needs of their loved ones first.

“I took a lot of notes and will share what I learned with the news and documentary departments at BET,” said Lockett. “I’m especially interested in women veterans’ issues. It is something that is not really talked about and BET is always looking for new stories to tell.”

The purpose of the meeting was to enrich the opportunities for writers and producers to tell women’s health stories with a high degree of accuracy so that audiences will be moved to more compassionate, considerate and correct understandings.

“The meeting reinforced how important it is to provide our audience with accurate information,” said Lockett.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study titled “How Healthy is Prime Time?” which assessed the frequency and type of health content found on television between 2004 and 2006. The Foundation found that during the period of the study, 59 percent of episodes of the top-rated scripted shows had at least one health-related storyline, and 32 percent of the health storylines included strong educational content, meaning they contained a very clear and accurate portrayal of a health issue and clearly addressed an important message about the topic.

“Research shows that popular television is a primary source of health information for many Americans. Millions of people say they consider the health information in the primetime dramas and comedies they watch for entertainment to be accurate,” said Jennifer Watt, assistant director, NASW Foundation. “It’s important for social workers and allied professionals to help the entertainment industry access health information that is accurate, as well as compelling for their story telling. Connecting writers and producers with social work expertise is one way we can help.”

NASW Communications Director Gail Woods Waller added, “Working with EIC is a great way to engage and build relationships with the creative community. We look forward to expanding these outreach efforts and others through the NASW Communications Network this year.”