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About AHCJ: General News

Outgoing president presents state of the association, notes transition with pride Date: 11/04/09

From the Summer-Fall 2009 issue of HealthBeat

LiebermanTrudy Lieberman, President

This will be my last HealthBeat column. After five years as president of AHCJ, it's time to turn the gavel over to Charlie Ornstein and a new set of officers who will take their positions at the fall board meeting in Miami. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this organization for so long as president and help build it into one of the best, most vibrant professional journalism organizations around. I will always consider being president of AHCJ a highlight of my very long career in journalism.

When I assumed the presidency in the summer of 2004, AHCJ was on the brink. We knew we had an important mission and vision, and everyone was passionate about improving the state of health reporting, but our finances were in shambles, and we clearly needed to retool with more money, more programs and more benefits. Just a few months before, I had been on assignment in Seattle when then-treasurer Sanjay Bhatt woke me up one night to tell me AHCJ might collapse. Something had to be done. And it was with the hiring of Len Bruzzese as executive director and the help of Sanjay and other board members who have so ably served with me throughout this rebuilding phase. We are now a more mature and stable organization ready to face a new stage of development in turbulent times for both health journalism and our profession.

As has been my custom, I have given a report to the membership on the state of the association. What follows is my assessment of where we are now. Our finances are in excellent shape. Despite belt-tightening in our business, we have continued to build our unrestricted net assets. The Center for Excellence, which sat at a negative $1,000 in assets four years ago, ended the fiscal year with $423,179 in unrestricted net assets. The Association has increased retained earnings from $23,000 four years ago to $462,000 today. With this cushion, we believe we can weather potential crises that might come our way.

Until this year, we seemed to be immune from membership losses other professional groups had experienced. After peaking above 1,100 members earlier this year, we have slipped back to about 940 members, a decline of about 12 percent from the end of the last fiscal year. To help members in this time of industry transition, we began the Transition Assistance Program which gives members who have been laid off or taken buy-outs to get help from AHCJ in paying membership and conference fees. We also introduced a mentor program offering members professional advice.

We continue to provide resources to members that can help with job skills and story ideas. Our popular daily blog, "Covering Health," features updates on the latest stories on health and medicine, alerts members to important events and helps them keep on top of the latest in the field. Check out the new data area of the site which provides data journalists might otherwise have a tough time getting. We also have tip sheets for analyzing and using data. For freelancers, we have created a directory that lets members who freelance show off their expertise.

One of our strengths has been the many fellowships we offer journalists across the country. We are in the third year of our Midwest Health Journalism Fellowship program that gives reporters and editors in Missouri and Kansas the opportunity to attend a number of events and educational programs throughout the year. This month we launched the AHCJ-National Library of Medicine Fellowships that gives journalists a chance to see the inner workings of the National Institutes of Health by spending a week on the NIH campus. Fellows learn how to use the many NIH databases. And our AHCJ-CDC Fellowships allow reporters to spend a week learning about and tapping into the resources of the CDC. Our AHCJ-Healthier Beat Fellowships introduce non-health journalists to the health beat by allowing them to attend our annual conference.

We started our Talking Health series in collaboration with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and The Commonwealth Fund. So far we've had three programs - on underinsurance, presidential promises and prospects for reform. We are planning another program on Medicare in early December.

This fall we will present an "Aging in the 21st Century" workshop at the University of Miami. We have attracted marquee speakers - former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and former FDA commissioner David Kessler. Do consider attending to learn how to better cover the myriad issues from brain research to retirement income security that will affect the health of elders in the coming years.

And it's not too early to think about the annual conference in Chicago at the end of April. In 1999, we held our first annual conference in Chicago. It is a fitting place to set AHCJ on a path for the next level in its development.

I will continue to serve on the AHCJ board and the executive committee working on a portfolio of projects including our London chapter and regional workshops.

Please give your support to Charlie and the rest of the officers and give a shout when you have an idea or suggestion. We are here to serve you.