Category Archives: Health journalism

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Matt Parker, student, Boston University School of Medicine, Boulder, Colo.
  • Laura Broadwell, independent journalist, Brooklyn, N.Y. (@Laura_Broadwell)
  • Heather Cygan, vice president of news/managing editor, Gannett Healthcare Group, Schaumburg, Ill. (@hcygan)
  • Jennifer Garcia, independent journalist, Houston
  • Matthew Glasser, health & medical producer, KNBC, Universal City, Calif (@mediamatthew)
  • Eleanor Kennedy, reporter, Nashville Business Journal, Nashville (@NSHBizKennedy)
  • Tami Luhby, senior writer, CNN Money, New York
  • Susan Moran, independent journalist, Boulder, Colo.
  • Tom Murphy, reporter, The Associated Press, Indianapolis
  • Margery Rosen, independent journalist, New York

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.

Caution in order when tackling newly released Medicare data

Charles Ornstein

About Charles Ornstein

Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter with ProPublica in New York. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists' board of directors and past president.

AHCJ hosted a webcast about the CMS data, featuring several CMS officials and Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica and member of AHCJ’s board of directors.

The federal government is expected Wednesday to release data on the services provided by – and money paid to – 880,000 health professionals who take care of patients in the Medicare Part B program. For 35 years, this data has been off limits to the public – and now it will be publicly available for use by journalists, researchers and others.

While the data offers a huge array of stories, which could take weeks or months to report out, it also has some pitfalls. Here are six things to be aware of before you dig in:

Have a strategy for storing and opening the data. This data set is big. About 10 million rows, from what I hear. Because of that, you won’t be able to analyze it in Microsoft Excel and you might not be able to open it in Microsoft Access. You’ll want to upload it onto a data server and analyze it in a more powerful program such as SQL or SPSS. This could well serve as a barrier to entry for smaller news organizations. You may want to partner with an academic institution or another news outlet to analyze the data. Continue reading

Using data from exchanges, journalists report on the true cost of health insurance

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

When the federal and state exchanges opened for business on Oct. 1, 2013, health care journalists found a trove of stories worth reporting on the cost of health insurance.

But they also found that simply reporting on the premiums that consumers paid was only part of the story. Consumers also had to pay deductibles at each metal level (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) and these payments varied widely.

Reporters also found that the federal subsidies for the poor added a layer of complexity to their reporting that made covering the actual cost of health insurance to be difficult and confusing. Continue reading

For freelancers, ‘Contracts 101′ was important session at #ahcj14

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Pia ChristensenHeather Boerner (left) moderated a panel that included freelance science writer and editor Kendall Powell (middle) and independent journalist Greg Smith.

Photo: Pia ChristensenHeather Boerner (left) moderated a panel that included freelance science writer and editor Kendall Powell (middle) and independent journalist Greg Smith.

Almost every freelancer has a horror story or two about contract negotiations gone awry. To help freelancers avoid the most common pitfalls when negotiating contracts, Health Journalism 2014 included a session titled Contracts 101. This session was important for independent health care journalists concerned about the business side of freelancing. Among the topics covered were the dreaded indemnity clauses, liability exposure, and how to estimate fees accurately.

Contracts 101 featured two freelancers (Kendall Powell, a science writer and editor, from Lafayette, Colo.; and Greg Smith, a photojournalist from Westcliffe, Colo.) and a lawyer in private practice, James Gregorio of Greensboro, N.C. Heather Boerner, an independent journalist from San Francisco, was the moderator. Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, a freelance writer in Connecticut, organized the panel but was unable to attend the conference.

Each speaker offered excellent advice on how freelancers can avoid the problems inherent in contract negotiations and what to do when publishers insert indemnity clauses in contracts. When they include these clauses, they often say, “Take it or leave it.” Whenever possible, Smith suggested freelancers should use their own contracts rather than settle for whatever publishers offer. Publishers draft contracts to suit their needs and rarely consider the needs of freelance writers, he said. Continue reading

New models bridge the gap in health care news #ahcj14

Andrea King Collier

About Andrea King Collier

Andrea King Collier is an independent journalist in Lansing, Mich. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Necessity has become the mother of innovative business models for local news. It’s no secret that vanishing news outlets and shrinking staff at the outlets are causing a void in solid investigative reporting, that can be expensive and labor intensive to produce. Entrepreneurial journalists who are passionate about news have taken on the challenge with online news enterprises at the local, state and national levels.

At Health Journalism 2014 in Denver, Laura Frank, the executive director of I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS; Carol Gentry, editor of Health News Florida; Tim Griggs, a fellow at The Texas Tribune; Rosemary Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News; and moderator Andy Miller, the editor of Georgia Health News; talked about the opportunities and challenges of creating new models for doing the deep dive into covering health news.

Gentry said the goal at Health News Florida is to fill the gap in coverage that went by the wayside. The site, which launched in 2007, “works hard to provide small investigations, but we don’t do anything that duplicates what is already being done out there,” Gentry said. “We only work to fill in the gaps in coverage, and we break news.”

Continue reading

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Colleen Gardephe, editor, MedShadow, New Rochelle, N.Y.
  • Brittney Haynes, independent journalist, Atlanta,
  • Ann Imse, editor, Colorado Public News, Morrison, Colo.
  • Caitlin Schmidt, student apprentice/reporter, University of Arizona/Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Ariz.

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.

Journalists high on health journalism for AHCJ’s annual conference #ahcj14

Andrew M. Seaman

About Andrew M. Seaman

Andrew M. Seaman is a medical journalist with Reuters Health. He started at Reuters as a Kaiser Family Foundation fellow in the D.C. bureau covering health policy and is a 2011 graduate of Columbia University's Journalism School, where he focused on investigative reporting as a Stabile Fellow.

AHCJ Audience 2014Journalists from all corners of the U.S. and some other countries gathered in the Mile-High City last week to learn from health care experts and each other at Health Journalism 2014.

For those who couldn’t attend the conference or all the sessions they would have liked, the Association of Health Care Journalists has been posting coverage of the conference to its Covering Health blog – including photos, videos and session recaps.

While at the conference, the journalists took part in field trips, workshops and discussions about topics ranging from oral health to sports medicine.

Two of the conference’s highlights were talks by two experts who continue to impact the world of health care. Continue reading

Offit challenges reporters to avoid false balance #ahcj14

Alan Scher Zagier

About Alan Scher Zagier

Alan Scher Zagier is a reporter at The Associated Press. He is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Photo by Maggie Prude

Photo by Maggie Prude

Paul Offit, M.D., has had it with the journalistic canard of false balance as a reflexive stand-in for objectivity – and he’s not shy about taking health journalists to task for their contributions to what he calls a skewed public narrative on the dangers of vaccines.

“You tell two sides of the story when only one side is supported by science,” the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine pediatrics professor and scourge of anti-vaccine activists said at Saturday’s Health Journalism 2014 awards luncheon.

Offit singled out a Philadelphia television news station’s breathless report on a meningitis B vaccine offered to Princeton University students in response to a 2013 outbreak of a rare strain that was also found at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The report was entitled “Student Guinea Pigs?” and featured interviews with both Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Sherri Tenpenny, D.O., a vaccine critic. The reporter frames Tenpenny’s sound-bite with the jarring qualifier that while she “doesn’t hate vaccines,” Tenpenny has doubts about the vaccine made available to Princeton students. Continue reading

Bugs in the body: When bacteria can be healthy #ahcj14

Kristina Fiore

About Kristina Fiore

Kristina Fiore is a staff writer for MedPage Today, focusing on diabetes, nutrition, and addiction medicine, and has written for New Jersey Monthly, ABC News, Newsday and other newspapers and magazines.

Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory via Flickr.

Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory via Flickr

With falling costs of genetic screening, research into the body’s microbial community has grown tremendously, offering new insights into what constitutes a healthy population of “bugs” and how these organisms are involved in disease, according to a panel discussion on Friday at Health Journalism 2014.

Bacteria account for about three pounds, on average, of our body weight – about the same size as the brain – and communities in various organ systems differ vastly, according to panelist Rob Knight, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado.

Knight’s lab develops technology that helps researchers turn data on these microbes into visual information – it’s been used for the Human Microbiome Project – and one representation shows just how divergent populations can be from one body part to the next. Continue reading

What do editors want from freelancers? #ahcj14

Lisa Krieger

About Lisa Krieger

Lisa Krieger is a science and medicine writer at the San Jose Mercury News. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ-California Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

Editors from four newspapers, magazines and web platforms offered great tips on how to conceive, pitch and write a freelance story during a Friday panel at Health Journalism 2014 in Denver.

In the interest of efficiency, here is a summary of their advice: Continue reading