About AHCJ: General News

President's Corner: Saluting volunteer service, growth of daily resources Date: 07/20/16

Karl StarkBy Karl Stark

It was great to see so many talented journalists at Health Journalism 2016 in Cleveland. More than 600 people showed up to take in speakers like U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and such sights as Mick Jagger’s amazingly skinny outfits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The attendance at AHCJ’s conferences is more than triple what it was a decade ago.

Our group continues to grow in resources and members despite the painful disruption in the news industry. Partly it’s because we are riding the wave of a demographic tsunami. Remember the movie “The Graduate” in which an in-the-know adult tells Dustin Hoffman the future is in plastics. Well, now it would be health care.

Another reason for our growth is that this organization rests on the shoulders of members with great vision and selflessness.

We got a chance to shine a momentary spotlight on one of these people at the conference, when we presented our Outstanding Service to Health Journalism Award to Andrew Holtz. Andrew was one of our founding members. He was an involved member, served on the board of directors and even was called upon to step in as interim executive director of AHCJ for several months, when finances were at their bleakest.

Andrew helped keep the ship on course, found our current executive director and continues to serve where he can.

Andrew exemplifies a true leader by staying involved and continuing to volunteer even after leaving the board. A 17-year veteran of CNN, he often leads the broadcaster roundtables, building AHCJ’s video offerings. He speaks at conferences, puts together panels, has represented us to outside funders and acts as one of our ethical watchdogs.

He also serves as a day-to-day mentor in our Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance program. In that role, he helps keeps five reporters on track doing their long-form projects, and they report that talking to him makes them feel better. He’s like a shrink with no co-pay!

“His dedication to young reporters is without a deadline,” says Sarah Gantz, a talented staffer at the Baltimore Business Journal and 2014 program fellow.

She cited Andrew for “an endless supply of practical tips, like how to keep medical students from clamming up during an interview,” and his “knack for showing you the way without telling you what to do,” a skill more editors should emulate.

“When I have a really tough question, I still call Andrew,” Sarah says. “He doesn’t have to help but always does, and I always feel better when I hang up the phone.”

A big thank you to Andrew, and all the member volunteers who help make AHCJ the kind of organization it is.

Web resources continue growing

One of the great resource programs AHCJ provides to help reporters and editors develop their stories is the Core Curriculum at healthjournalism.org. The program is built around the idea that there is a core set of topics that today’s journalists need to master to cover the health beat well.

We have been lucky enough to find sponsors who agree that providing a launch pad for each topic – with a growing glossary of terms, key concept definitions, tip sheets, how-to articles, related data and resource links and timely blog items with fresh information – can help writers move more quickly and confidently toward their stories.

We have unveiled six core topics over the past few years: health reform, aging, medical studies, social determinants, oral health and insurance. We are now thrilled to announce a seventh core topic: health information technology.

Work by our core topic leaders – Joanne Kenen on health reform, Liz Seegert on aging, Tara Haelle on medical studies, Susan Heavey on social determinants, Mary Otto on oral health and Joe Burns on insurance – helps keep you up to date and ready to write. Now, Rebecca Vesely joins this mentor corps by pursuing health IT (See page 28).

Be sure to monitor their posts, because they provide crucial shortcuts and story ideas that can help inform your work.

Want to learn more about the Republican plans to sell insurance across state lines? Check out the pros and cons from Rachana Pradhan, a health care reporter for Politico Pro, contributing to Joanne Kenen’s Health Reform section of the site. (healthjournalism.org/reform)

Andy Miller shows how Georgia bill 684 was killed even though it would have let dental hygienists work in safety-net settings without a dentist present. Miller is the moving force behind George Health News, an intriguing new model for health journalism that sent his dental coverage to some 17 outlets across the state. See Miller’s dogged work detailed on the Oral Health section run by Mary Otto. (healthjournalism.org/oralhealth)

And there’s Amy Ellis Nutt’s epistle to loneliness in The Washington Post. I learned about this piece while combing through Nutt’s “How-I-Did It” account for Susan Heavey’s Social Determinants section of the site. (healthjournalism.org/ socialdeterminants)

Nutt, who holds a masters in philosophy from MIT, is one of those writers who can entrance you from the first word. She covered her bases, reporting how social isolation can take years off your life, and even listing “the top 10 songs that know just what it’s like to feel lonely,” including Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

But her lead really knocked me out:

“It torments the young and terrorizes the old. It carved ‘caverns’ in Emily Dickinson’s soul and left William Blake ‘bereaved of light.’ Loneliness, long a bane of humanity, is increasingly seen today as a serious public health hazard.”



Karl Stark is president of AHCJ’s board of directors and assistant managing editor, business, health and science, at The Philadelphia Inquirer.