About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ revises membership rules Date: 06/15/11

The AHCJ board has amended the organization's membership guidelines, completing a process first begun in early 2010. The adjustments are an effort to make membership rules more consistent and ensure AHCJ is first and foremost an organization of and for journalists.

The changes will have no effect on most current members, says board member Phil Galewitz, chair of the Membership Committee. Journalists working for publications of health companies or health advocacy organizations, however, will be shifted into the associate member category, if they are not already there, he said.

While AHCJ has long required that journalists from these organizations' publications work independently of lobbying and public relations staffers, it has been increasingly difficult to judge their independence based on employer. This will allow them to continue taking advantage of most member benefits, including the electronic discussion list and website resources, but will exclude them from running for board positions or voting for board members.

The same rule will apply to freelancers who spend the majority of their time working for these organizations.

"This will ensure the future of the organization continues to be directed by journalists working for independent news outlets," Galewitz said.

A third category – allied – has been added to address the needs of health care providers who have part-time roles writing columns, blogging, broadcasting or otherwise reporting health information to the public through independent or non-independent news organizations. Allied members will be similar to associate members but will not be able to post to the organization's electronic discussion list. This is meant to address concerns that health care providers may attempt to drive business or coverage to themselves.

The board also made clearer that applicants for the professional and associate categories (outside of college faculty and students) must be journalists. AHCJ receives periodic requests for membership from health educators and those who write materials for health plans, hospitals and websites that distill research on diseases or medical diseases for patients. Such individuals cannot be members. While the job duties have some similarities with journalists, AHCJ's focus on journalism requires that stories be published or aired in news publications, news websites or on news programs.

AHCJ has maintained its rule that its members cannot pitch stories to journalists, do lobbying or otherwise work as public relations professionals. This includes those whose main job is to put together promotional material for their organization or those who are not allowed to seek viewpoints for articles from people outside their organization.

To help us with our membership screening, an additional question has been added to the membership application. Applicants are asked if they have any conflicts based on some nonjournalism work they may do for health care companies or advocacy organizations. None of the questions automatically disqualify anyone but are helpful to our membership committee in reviewing applicants.

You can review the complete membership category explanations.

The membership subcommittee on rules – Phil Galewitz, Scott Hensley and Gideon Gil – spent more than eight months reviewing rules, accepting member input and examining applications before making recommendations to the full membership committee, and eventually, the AHCJ board of directors.