History of AHCJ


Multicultural Workshop at Health Journalism 2007The idea of an Association of Health Care Journalists was born at a conference of health care reporters in Bloomington, Ind., in March of 1997. As it happened, several journalists, who had felt the need for such a group, crossed paths at that conference, which was sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

To get things going, J. Duncan Moore, a reporter for Modern Healthcare magazine, and Melinda Voss, then a health reporter for the Des Moines Register, organized an initial meeting.

They recruited various other journalists, including Joanne Silberner of National Public Radio, Mark Taylor, then a reporter for The Gary Post Tribune, former Los Angeles Times reporter Irene Wielawski and Ron Winslow of The Wall Street Journal for a meeting in Chicago the following September. The group, which designated itself as an interim board of directors, spent a weekend hammering out some policies and goals.

The board agreed to temporarily locate the association at the University of Minnesota, where Voss was pursuing a master's degree in public health. Al Tims, then the interim director of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, provided the association with an office and a computer and some other amenities.

The Association incorporated in 1998, procured 501(c)3 status in 1999 and succeeded in getting start-up grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Crain Communications. In addition, AHCJ received in-kind services from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Bureau of National Affairs and Tom Schroeder of Faegre & Benson, an international law firm.

Quality GuideThe Association held its inaugural national conference in 2000 in Chicago, featuring several workshop sessions and an address by presidential candidate Al Gore.

In 2002, AHCJ published its first reporter's resource guide - "Covering the Quality of Health Care." The guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was widely distributed throughout the United States and pointed out Association activities to a wider audience.

That same year, the Institute of Medicine recognized AHCJ in its "Future of the Public's Health in the 21st Century" report: "Journalist associations also have begun to take a lead in providing opportunities for journalists to improve the quality of information they provide to the public. The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), for example, is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues."

In 2004 (at the fifth national conference in Minneapolis), the membership approved conversion of the Association to a 501(c)6 trade association with a supporting 501(c)3 charitable organization - the Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. The Association holds annual meetings, publishes newsletters, operates the Web site and advocates on behalf of health journalists and the free flow of information. The Center presents training events, publishes educational materials and undertakes other educational projects aimed at improving the state of health journalism.

In a major step toward its advocacy work on behalf of journalists and the public, AHCJ in 2004 rallied 20 other journalism organizations in calling for an end to the use of video news releases by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The VNRs - made to look like authentic news reports - included the use of announcers posing as journalists.

Multicultural GuideIn 2005, AHCJ and the Center hired a new executive director - veteran journalist Len Bruzzese, then the deputy director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. Bruzzese worked with R. Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, to relocate the AHCJ offices to Columbia, Mo. There it joined other mid-career programs housed at the university, including IRE, the Society of Business Editors and Reporters, the National Newspaper Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The Association also held its first Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism contest in 2005 (for work in 2004), drawing more than 370 entries in just five categories.

In 2006, the Association and Center published a second major reporter's resource guide, this one on "Covering Health in a Multicultural Society." The guide was followed by workshops and a related online module. The project was supported by The California Endowment. Also in 2006, a Web-based "slim guide" series was launched with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The first slim guide was on using Web resources to cover hospital quality.

Early in 2007, the Association hit another milestone: Active membership exceeded 1,000 for the first time. The members represented 48 states, the District of Columbia and 15 nations. Health Journalism 2007, held in Los Angeles, drew more than 400 attendees and featured Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Steve Case, founder of AOL and Revolution Health; as well as two stars of "General Hospital" who took part in a panel about health and Hollywood.