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
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.”
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
This is Sunshine Week, a yearly celebration of open government. It’s held every year in the week that includes the birthday (March 16) of President James Madison, a champion of the First Amendment.
Sunshine Week has its roots in a 2002 protest by journalists against efforts by Florida’s legislature to weaken the state’s public records law. Today, it is a national endeavor of the American Society of News Editors and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, but many other organizations take the occasion to note the importance of open government and a free press. Sunshine Week’s slogan is “Your Right to Know,” which brings me to the work of the Right to Know Committee of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Through research, letters, op-ed columns and meetings with government officials, the committee advocates for access to the information health care reporters need to do their jobs. But the purpose, says Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer, who has served on the committee since 2007, goes beyond making reporters’ jobs easier.
“In demanding government transparency, we’re upholding a fundamental principle of democracy – the citizens’ right to easily see what their government is doing, in their name, with their tax dollars,” Freyer says.
The work has its share of frustrations, not unlike journalism itself, where the reporting effort does not always yield commensurate public response. Our straight-up wins are rare but we have made progress on several fronts: Continue reading
Local and national planning committees are working on the program for AHCJ’s annual conference. Many of our conference sessions grow out of ideas from our members. Now is the time to send us your ideas about what sessions we should offer and speakers you want to hear from.
To suggest topics or speakers, please fill out the suggestion form linked on the main conference page. The planning committee, AHCJ board members and staff will evaluate all the ideas and use them to come up with a dynamic and informative conference.
Health Journalism 2014, the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, will take place in Denver next year, AHCJ has announced.
The conference, which has drawn between 600 and 800 attendees in each of the past three years, will take place March 27-30, 2014, at the Grand Hyatt Denver. The hotel is located just a block from Denver’s popular 16th Street pedestrian mall and features views of the vibrant downtown and the majestic Rocky Mountains.
A local planning committee is being formed by co-chairs Michael Booth ofThe Denver Post and Eric Whitney of Colorado Public Radio. It will be made up of area journalists from print, broadcast and online outlets.
“The local journalists will provide some guidance on local and regional issues, as well as help pinpoint area experts worth including,” said Len Bruzzese, AHCJ executive director. Continue reading
Please welcome these new professional members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.
- Monique Batista de Oliveira, reporter, ISTOE Magazine, Sao Paulo (@moniqueoliveira)
- Duncan Echelson, independent journalist, Dripping Springs, Texas (@medskep)
- Peter Eisler, investigative reporter, USA Today, McLean, Va. (@bypetereisler)
- Jill Hodges, independent journalist, Seattle
- Dan Munro, contributor, Forbes.com, Gold Canyon, Ariz. (@danmunro)
- Brianne Pfannensteil, health care reporter, Kansas City Business Journal, Kansas City, Mo. (@kcbj_brianne)
- Liliana Sanchez Andres, director of programming, Univision Salud, Surfside, Fla.
- Jack Spears, president, TriMed Media Group, Providence, R.I.
- Jennifer Weeks, independent journalist, Watertown, Mass.
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.
Randi Belisomo, co-founder of Life Matters Media:
What has most impressed you about the conference so far?
I’ve been most impressed by the number of people in attendance. I didn’t know such a huge number specialized in health journalism. This certainly outpaced what I expected.
What was the most important thing you learned?
I was most heartened to learn that the issue of end-of-life care was included in the program. This was so nice to have in the conference – that is, having so much attention paid to it and learning that it was included in so many journalists’ beats.
What struck you as most surprising about the conference?
It was so interesting to hear from so many physicians that journalists play such a role in educating patients. It’s great to hear physicians say that.
What do you wish was included that wasn’t?
Professionally, I would have liked to find some people with like interests to meet and engage in conversation. I feel like there might have been a networking component that might have grouped people together by topic or geography.
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.