Category Archives: Tools

Tools help reporters follow tax dollars that fund medical research

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Pia Christensen

Image by Pia Christensen

Why did the chicken cross the road? We’ve never known, but we may soon find out thanks to a United Kingdom project that aims to study human-chicken interactions.

It’s no joke, and it’s caused quite a flap across the pond because it’s costing taxpayers there £1.95 million, or roughly $3.1 million. Not everybody thinks it’s a crazy idea. Nature recently ran an editorial defending the research. The journal editors write:

We know surprisingly little about the history of human–chicken relations, such as how chickens first came to Britain.

Reading about that project got me thinking … in this era of sequestration cuts, what research projects have wrangled scarce public dollars in this country, and how much are we paying for them?

You can search government grants for research in a few places. Grants awarded by the federal department of Health and Human Services can be searched using the TAGGS tool, for Tracking Accountability in Government Grants.

A quick advanced search on the keyword “chicken” turned up four studies of chickens, but no foul play. Two studies deal with chicken genes, one is using chickens as a model for human disease, and the last is researching how chickens become colonized with bacteria that gives humans food poisoning.

You can also search grants by state, institution, and the name of the investigator.

The NIH has a different grant searching tool called RePORTER (Research Online Grant Reporting Tools). Using the advanced search there, the term “chicken” turned up 132 results, mostly because it also pulled up studies of chickenpox.

In addition to the keyword search you can search by funding category, location, and the names of investigators.

Have you used these tools to enterprise stories? Tell us about it in the comments section below. Don’t forget to include a link to your story.

Guide to data to aid in health care reporting

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

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.

Ideas worth stealing from Health Journalism 2013 #ahcj13

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

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

Freelancing: Keys to negotiating fair contracts

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski, a founding member of AHCJ, is an independent writer and editor specializing in health care and policy whose honors include two team Pulitzer Prizes and a Pulitzer finalist citation for medical journalism. Wielawski, a member of AHCJ's board of directors, is chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee and also serves on the Freelance and the Finance and Development committees. You can follow her at @wielawski.

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.

Timeline shows upcoming developments in exchanges

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

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.


(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Using Twitter, LinkedIn to diversify your sources #ahcj13

Shuka Kalantari

About Shuka Kalantari

Shuka Kalantari is a health outreach coordinator at KQED-San Francisco. She is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-California Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

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 share strategies, tools for maintaining quality #ahcj13

Yvelette Stines

About Yvelette Stines

Yvelette Stines is an independent journalist in Detroit. She is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

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: FoundDivvyReadCubeDevonThink, and If This Then That.

Simple tools for spicing up your stories with multimedia #ahcj13

Yvonne Valdez

About Yvonne Valdez

Yvonne Valdez is an editor and health writer at El Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

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.

Continue reading

Member uses data to track doctors’ referrals; AHCJ members get a first look

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

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

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.

Some ideas:

●     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

Health care watchdog agency provides ideas for stories in coming year

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.

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.OIG 2013 Outlook Webcast at oig.hhs.gov

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.