Every month we add to the resources and data sections of the health reform core topic area, with notes on how it can be used to report on reform. But I also wanted to point out a guide to data for health care reporters that our colleagues at Reporting on Health put together.
Health Journalism 2013, Boston edition, is officially a wrap. I traveled home with tons of useful tricks and story ideas, and because it’s my job to help you do yours… you’re going to get to steal some of my best pickups right here, right now. Continue reading
Being an independent journalist doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce to the dictates of sources – or of clients. The key to having a say, though, is negotiating contract terms that provide a framework for high quality journalism.
It took me years to figure out how to build into standard contracts the tools I needed to protect the integrity of my work. As a new freelancer, I was timid about challenging these legal documents. Today, I regard every contract as a first draft, and liberally cross out language that I don’t understand or that binds me to promises I couldn’t possibly keep. Among the latter are indemnity clauses, which saddle the freelancer with legal liability for anything that goes awry in the publication process.
But it took me seemingly forever to get to where I am now so I’ve recounted my long journey in an article on AHCJ’s website in hopes of making it a shorter one for you. I’ve also collected tips and resources from fellow AHCJ freelancers. I hope this will be the start of an ongoing conversation among AHCJ freelancers on this vitally important element of sustaining yourself financially and professionally as an independent journalist. If you have a tip to share, please leave a comment and we’ll add them to the list of tips with the article.
As many of you know, Gary Cohen, the head of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (the HHS office that is spearheading the exchanges) was a last-minute no-show at our Health Journalism 2013 panel on state implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Whether it was budgetary (CCIIO is setting up WAY more federal exchanges than it anticipated and hasn’t pried more money out of Congress, as you can imagine) or whether somebody decided it wasn’t really such a good idea for Cohen to face a whole room of inquisitive journalists for whom CCIIO might not yet have answers was a subject of much speculation in Boston.
However, even if Cohen didn’t join us, his team did send us a timeline. (Before you get confused looking at it, QHP stands for “qualified health plans” – health plans that live up to the new rules for participation in exchanges). Here it is. You can use it to help track what’s ready, what’s lagging, what’s going through dry runs before being opened to consumers in your state.
At KQED Public Radio’s The California Report in San Francisco, part of my job is to connect with communities across California and find diverse voices talking about community health issues for our airwaves. While on-the-ground outreach is the ideal way to build relationships with sources, it’s impossible for one person to embed herself in all of California’s 58 counties.
That’s where social media comes in. Tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and social media networks has helped me find a wide range of voices, as well as follow conversations in my health beat. At Health Journalism 2013, I did a presentation with Dori J. Maynard, the President of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, Calif., (follow her at @TeamMije and @djmaynard) on how to navigate Twitter and LinkedIn to find sources. We started with Twitter.
Reporters should follow individuals and organizations that serve diverse populations (need some Twitter 101? Check AHCJ’s tip sheets here and here, Twitter’s Help Center, Mediabistro, and Mashabable’s video tutorial). Follow ethnic media in your coverage area. Also, think outside traditional “health” box. Don’t just follow health organizations and media – think about arts groups, youth groups or theater groups in the regions you are covering. For example, I follow Cornerstone Theater Company, a community theater group in downtown Los Angeles. The staff has since connected me with various community members who have been affected by community health issues on everything from trying to get access to health care as a homeless person in Skid Row, to preventing gun violence in South LA.
But if you’re following hundreds (or even thousands) of people on Twitter, it can be hard to keep up with the conversations. That’s where creating Twitter “streams” can be useful. Continue reading
Freelancers have a lot on their plates: pitching, making deadline, managing their time. In the Health Journalism 2013 session “Freelance: Maintaining Quality Under Pressure,” moderated by AHCJ board member and freelance chair Maryn McKenna, presenters gave an inside glimpse into how they meet their responsibilities.
Writing a book while researching and writing articles take time and concentration. Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn explained how she hired a writing coach to help her work more effectively — “the best thing that I’ve ever done,” she said. “Chunking” — identifying small blocks of time in which to perform small tasks — and planning backwards are two techniques that keeps her organized.
Karen Weintraub, a journalist and author of two books and two e-books, walked attendees through the complexities of co-author collaboration. Among her tips: Make sure you like your co-authors, but try to choose someone whose work style is different from your own — and be prepared for the ego challenge of not receiving the lion’s share of the publicity.
Seth Mnookin — author, blogger and co-director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing — presented a rapid-fire tour through organizational software, cautioning, “There is no right or wrong set of tools, or ways to use them.” Among his favorites: Found, Divvy, ReadCube, DevonThink, and If This Then That.
Do you think adding multimedia to your online work is complicated? In a Thursday afternoon session Michelle Johnson, a professor of multimedia journalism at Boston University, showed us it’s not that hard after all.
Johnson started with a funny disclaimer: “I am not nor have I ever been a health reporter, writer or editor….” She is a multimedia pro, though.
Her session focused on tools for producing multimedia. We, the journalists, are the experts on content, she said. However, it’s important to make our stories more interactive, so we can capture readers’ attention.
What is multimedia? It can be a combination of things: text, photos, video, data and animation. Anything that adds “color” to the story.
One place to start is with an interactive graphic. You can use Thinklink.com to add those to your stories. Thinklink.com allows you to add an image and tag it. For example, to a picture of a virus you can add links, Q&As and comments. You only need a good image and a collection of links. You post the photo, add the links and save it.
AHCJ member Fred Trotter publicly unveiled a major data set last week that could reshape how journalists report on medical professionals. At the Strata Rx conference in San Francisco, Trotter showed off data he received from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that could show the relationships among physicians, as well as their referral patterns.
Fred Trotter has agreed to let AHCJ members have access to his development website so they can look up specific doctors. To access it, click here and login to the AHCJ site.
Trotter plans to release the full data set and the search tool to the public at a later date (see below). Trotter answered some questions from AHCJ President Charles Ornstein:
Q. Tell us about the data set you just unveiled.
A. This is the social graph of medicine. It is the referral patterns for most of the doctors, hospitals and labs in the country, based on a FOIA request for Medicare data. For any given physician in the United States, there is a good chance that this data set reveals what other doctors, hospitals and labs they typically work with.
Q. How could it be useful for journalists?
A. Using the data, journalists will be able to figure out “who to gumshoe” for health care stories.
● You have a “bad doctor” story. This works for crime, fraud, etc. Who was referring patients to that doctor, what hospital was he or she working with? At the least, the people you identify would be interesting to interview. At worst, these people may be co-conspirators.
● Who are the best doctors in your city? Who is the best local resource to interview about cardiology, neurology, etc. Specialists who have lots of inbound referrals from different doctors implicitly have the respect of other doctors in the community.
● By grouping doctors by hospital referrals, it will be possible to see which ones are “aligned” with different hospitals. It is also possible to measure how exclusive this affiliation is. Most local health care reporters have an intuition of how the local health care market operates, but this will provide specific details.
● By working with data scientists we can make lots and lots of pretty diagrams to support journalistic assertions. Continue reading
The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has unveiled its FY 2013 OIG Work Plan , a blueprint for the watchdog agency’s work in the upcoming year and beyond.
For enterprising health care reporters, this publication is like a catalog of story ideas, featuring hundreds of summaries of OIG’s upcoming reports, descriptions of its investigative and legal work, plus an overview of guidance it provides to the health care provider community. Topics of upcoming reports include same-day hospital readmissions, oversight of poorly performing nursing homes, and FDA’s process for investigational new drug applications.
Also, on Oct. 24, OIG will launch its OIG Outlook 2013 webcast. The free online event will include OIG’s senior leadership discussing emerging trends in combating fraud, waste and abuse in federal health care programs, OIG’s top priorities for 2013, and upcoming projects outlined in the Work Plan.
OIG’s mission is to protect the integrity of HHS’s 300+ programs – including Medicare and Medicaid – and the well-being of beneficiaries by conducting audits, evaluations, and investigations; providing guidance to the health care industry; and imposing civil monetary penalties, assessments and administrative sanctions.
Every year, the National Association of County and City Health Officials honors local health departments for what they call “Exemplary and Innovative Programs.” This year, 39 were chosen out of 166 applicants.
The honorees included Albany County’s “Healthy Convenience Store Initiative,” Boulder County’s “Rapid Access and Treatment Retention of Young Opioid Addicts,” Columbus’s “Columbus Art Walks,” and Schenectady County’s “Know, Grow and Eat Your Vegetables: Increasing Access to Healthier Foods Among the Developmentally Disabled.”
The best part? Their online database of what appears to be almost a decade worth of both “model” and “promising” practices from around the country. My link is sorted to place model practices first, but it’s easy to browse in whatever format you please. If you sort by state, for example, you’re likely to find at least a few programs in your area. Even if you don’t find anything new in your neighborhood though, the database is worth a look as a way to gain insight into interesting programs across the country that could provide a jumping-off point for any number of local angles.