Category Archives: Tools

Interactive atlases can help coverage of Diabetes Awareness Month

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a handle on major health determinants in your community, and it’s even harder to make them come alive in a story. Straightforward statistics can be dry or intimidating, while percentages and frequencies might fail to resonate.

So how can you give your readers, viewers or listeners a little extra background information without boring them to sleep? Interactive atlases are an effective way to do this – they can provide stories with both images and some enriched perspective. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and mapping tools like the CDC Diabetes Atlas provide a visual representation of diabetes in the U.S. The Diabetes Atlas helps to illustrate both diabetes and its many determinants using four indicators:

  • Diagnosed diabetes
  • Diagnosed diabetes incidence
  • Obesity
  • Leisure-time physical inactivity

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When patients get lab test results, journalists may need these resources

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

Next month, all clinical laboratories must make patients’ laboratory test results available to patients who request them.

Under rules three federal agencies issued in February, labs must either mail the results to patients or put them up in a secure site online within 30 days of receiving a request from a patient or a patient’s representative.

When the rules were published Feb. 3, Joseph Conn explained in Modern Healthcare that the new regulations pre-empt laws in 13 states and lift a federal exemption in 26 other states. “Previously, in those 39 states, patients could receive or view their lab test results only through their physician or other authorized health care provider,” Conn wrote.

Labs in some health systems already make results available. Kaiser Permanente, for example, has allowed patients to see their test results since 2008. Since the new rules became effective on April 7, some labs have begun complying although compliance is not mandatory until Oct. 6. Continue reading

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at

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 to add those to your stories. 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.

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