Is coffee good for you? Would walking UNLV’s campus five times a week help you lose weight? Is that Fitbit really working?
Sometimes it seems like all we do is ask questions about how to eat healthy or lose weight. Depending on what you hear in the news or see in your social media feeds, the things that are supposedly good for us may kill us too. Such jarring information doesn’t help people make informed decisions about their health, says Michael Easter, host of the new healthy living show called Nevada Health, launching March 6 on 91.5 KUNV FM, airing every Monday.
“The show will be sort of an advocate for people in Nevada,” said Easter, a former editor of Men’s Health Magazine. He joined the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism & Media Studies as a visiting lecturer this spring. His courses include the history of journalism and reporting on health.
Public Service Journalism
Easter said it’s the right time to launch a health-driven show and a class because the public is being inundated with science and health news. Such stories may make for easy-to-read nuggets and clickable headlines but often lack context or multiple perspectives.
He’s seen his share of studies that claim medical breakthroughs only to mislead the public.
“We really want to focus initially on reporting because the public is confused. Students will learn how to read studies and how to analyze research that comes out. Anytime you see the words ‘cure all’ or ‘moonshot,’ its’ probably not what it is. If the study says ‘x reduces y’ by 50 percent — well, what does that mean?,” Easter said. “We want to create journalists who can analyze claims and put those claims in context so people can live healthier lives. It fulfills journalism’s role in providing public service.”
The new radio show is a partnership with the new UNLV School of Medicine, which will enroll its first class this fall. Barbara Atkinson, the founding dean of the UNLV medical school, will be Easter’s first guest.
A Utah native who enjoys the outdoors, Easter said Southern Nevada’s environment was appealing. The show will include coverage to promote physical activity as well as prevention strategies, mental fitness, healthcare policy, and medical news. The program will feature experts not only at UNLV but from the Las Vegas Valley and around the nation.
While the news cycle is changing on the hour, Easter says, several key health topics are emerging and require in-depth reporting. The rising rate of opioid addiction in Nevada, immunotherapy methods to treat cancer, and health disparities are chief among the topics he plans to explore on-air and in the classroom.
Old Schools Meets New School
Easter said social media is a useful tool for spotting trends, finding stories and sources. He used social media to track down a family who’d suffered health consequences after unknowingly living in a house that was used as a meth lab. The story was published in Scientific American.
However, with social media shaping so much of what students now see or hear about the world, Easter will push students to not only use social media to find sources and stories but to get out of their comfort zones and meet people – in real life.
“The things you needed to be a journalist 100 years ago still apply today. You have to know how report a story well, find the right sources, distill information down to what readers’ need to know, and write in a way that’s engaging, clean, and concise,” he said.
“The best stories I had weren’t from a link or something online; it was from talking with someone. I was at the right place and right time. It’s in the random asides that you hear people say things that can turn into a big story.”
Experiences and backgrounds shape a person’s outlook on life and it’s the responsibility of a journalist to help the public understand the human condition, Easter says. It’s also the responsibility of today’s journalist to help the public discriminate fact from fake news.
Working at Men’s Health also informed his teaching approach to employ print, online and video tools. As an editor, he toggled between print and online teams to do just that.
One of his favorite stories is on Steve Langton, an American bobsledder and Olympic champion, who can do a box jump. You have to watch the video to see what the Olympic champion can do, says Easter. Easter wrote the story after travelling to upstate New York and working with a producer to film Langton’s jump and to uncover the science behind why Langton can jump 70 inches.
His all time favorite is a story about a unique gym that’s hacking their psychology to reach new levels of performance. Their hardcore methods have helped members of their “fitness cult” win crossfit games championships, join the country’s most elite special operations units and climb the most difficult peaks in the world.
“The most successful people are an expert in one medium but they also know how to collaborate and think about their work in other mediums,” Easter said. “You have to find the heart of the story.”