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About AHCJ: General News

President’s Corner: Health care too vast a coverage area without the generosity of your peers Date: 06/10/14

Karl Stark
Karl Stark

Karl Stark, AHCJ president
From the Spring 2014 issue of HealthBeat. 

If you didn’t get to hear Rhiannon Meyers describe her diabetes project at Health Journalism 2014 in Denver, you missed her take on a real catty whompus state of affairs, as they say in Texas.

Diabetes is so rampant in Corpus Christi, Rhiannon said, that the Dartmouth Atlas ranked the city No. 1 in the nation for below-the-knee amputations. A national magazine even dubbed the town “Corpulent Christi” for its Texas-sized waist lines. Rhiannon, an investigative reporter covering health care part time at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, proposed a yearlong project for 2013 that was chosen for support by AHCJ’s Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance.

The fellowship – which includes travel and research support, mentoring and other resources – enabled Rhiannon to steep herself in issues surrounding diabetes, both locally and nationally. She learned what questions to ask and where to go for data. “AHCJ helped me bust out of the local silo,” she said. “I heard more from readers during that series than I have in my entire career.”

Stories like this are why AHCJ exists. We are all about reporters learning from one another, sharing ideas and techniques and resources, and then supporting stellar work. Health care is too vast and complicated to cover alone, especially when reporters like Rhiannon have to spread their time across multiple beats.

So what is AHCJ doing now that matters to its members? 

Rhiannon Meyers
Rhiannon Meyers

A new crop of reporters is already working away on this year’s reporting fellowship, pushing the boundaries that Rhiannon and others have set. A group of Regional Health Journalism Fellows is just wrapping up its year of customized training. If you’re unfamiliar with these or other AHCJ fellowships, check them out. Be prepared to think big, and beat the application deadlines.

AHCJ had stellar attendance for the annual conference in Denver, thanks in part to a great set of field trips and speakers, including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan.

Our group, led by AHCJ Executive Director Len Bruzzese and a small but dedicated staff, continues to draw new membership applications despite the many uncertainties still surrounding the news industry.

We continue to look for data sets that our members can use and to which AHCJ can add value. The newest is the vast trove of Medicare Part B services – 9.1 million records covering payments to more than 880,000 physicians. The file is too vast for many journalists to analyze on their own so AHCJ has broken down the data by state for easy downloading. We also are providing caveats and tips to use the data correctly.

AHCJ has a lot of tools, tip sheets and free journal access that some members may not know about. So we started a daily email – the Daily Update – that flags the most topical stuff from our website. It could be a blog post by one of our six excellent Core Topic leaders. Or it could be a tip sheet from a recent training event. Or it could be a wrap-up of the latest Twitter traffic referencing you and your peers.

We’re always looking for the latest health-related stories by members. If you’ve done work you are particularly proud of, drop a note to our Managing Editor/Online Services Pia Christensen at pia@healthjournalism.org, because we would love to make note of it for your fellow members.

Finally, consider getting involved. AHCJ is only as good as the efforts of its members. We need your support, whether it’s helping our Right to Know Committee advocate for better access to government information, helping pull together an hourlong program for a local AHCJ chapter or reaching out to co-workers or others in your professional network to join the organization to keep it vital and growing. For ideas on getting more involved in AHCJ, see healthjournalism.org/getting-involved.

I, along with the rest of the board and the staff, look forward to helping you develop your stories and career, and hope you’ll help us continue to develop AHCJ as a professional association known for the sharing of its members.


 

Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor for health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, serves as president of the AHCJ board of directors.