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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Journalist Stresses the Importance of Integrity

    Trying to find someone who wants to talk to a journalist isn’t easy. When you’re Ridgely Ochs, the Newsday health reporter whose stories have led to the shutdown of the pediatric cardiac surgery program at Stony Brook University Medical Center, it can be downright difficult.

    “Finding a source takes time,” said Ochs on Tuesday afternoon, to a group of journalism students during Professor Elizabeth Bass’s Science and Health Reporting class in the School of Journalism newsroom. “You want to form a relationship so they can give you a story.”

    Starting out as a health care reporter at Newsday in 2003, Ochs frequently searched through footnotes of scientific papers to find experts on a subject. She also pointed out that a person doesn’t have to stop being a source once their story hits the press. “You don’t think of them as sources, but you can call and ask them for more information.”

    To Ochs, one of the main challenges of being a health care journalist is dealing with extensive privacy laws that are unique to the field. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), designed to give patients control over their health records and limit usage and release of information to third parties, makes it difficult for journalists to obtain information about a patient or health care institution.

    People won’t give information and cite HIPAA as the reason why, said Ochs. “Sometimes it’s true, but sometimes they just don’t want to give you information.”

    Ochs does try to walk a line. “Maintain relationships, be straightforward and be upfront,” she said to students. “If you promise not to reveal someone, don’t.” She also recommended writing “sweet beats,” a non-critical story on a subject in a reporter’s beat field.

    Someone who is known for stories that put contacts in compromising positions, Ochs admitted that keeping sources can be just as hard as finding them.

    “It’s not easy,” she explained to the class — about her relationship with a source after covering a controversial story. “But you’re doing your job. I’d like to think that if I was replaced by another reporter, they would do the same thing I did.”

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