About AHCJ: General News

President’s Corner: Solid efforts of past should be seen as preparation for strong year ahead Date: 03/16/17

Karl StarkBy Karl Stark

You may have heard. New leaders were elected to represent us in Washington, D.C. And they are keen to gut the Affordable Care Act.

And just as quickly, there was a blog post on healthjournalism.org about how that gutting will go down and what re­porters need to know to report on it. The majority in the narrowly divided Senate will use a legislative tactic called reconcili­ation, because it removes the threat of a filibuster, noted AHCJ contributor Sarah Ferris who covered health in Congress for The Hill.

This little interchange is just a taste of how AHCJ plans to be helpful over the next year and beyond. Our goal is to get our members the tips and training they need to do their jobs in real time, for au­diences online, over the air and in print.

Here are some priorities we see at the moment:

• Our Right to Know Committee has logged some impressive accomplish­ments over the past few years, like getting HHS to accept AHCJ mem­bership as a credential for any of its agencies’ media briefings. But that committee’s work will likely intensify over the next four years. We’re going to need to develop better relationships and better allies to make sure the access to data and other achievements we’ve made don’t slide backward but actu­ally progress. This is truly work driven by our members’ needs. So if you have some problems or ideas, seek out Felice J. Freyer, our Right To Know commit­tee head.

• Yes, more people have gotten covered by insurance, but the ACA still left out a lot of people (like undocument­ed immigrants). There’s also a strong likelihood that individual coverage will become more expensive and less available, and that Medicaid will be re­duced. So access is likely to loom larger as the law is reshaped. AHCJ is poised to help. Check out our core topic blogs on Health Insurance and Health Re­form, two of the seven that AHCJ now runs. They are full of tips and breaking developments that will help you cover this important area.

• We live in an era of unusual outbreaks, from Zika and Ebola to the man-made opioid crisis. How to cover them with­out creating fear and loathing will be a challenge. Luckily, AHCJ membership comes with access to the electronic dis­cussion list, where you can pose ques­tions to more than 1,400 colleagues in real time. We also offer free access to journals and hold webcasts and other training efforts with experts that can help you understand these outbreaks and plan how to cover them.

• We also live in a time of fake news, triggered by bots that are aimed at influencing public opinion. Fortu­nately, health journalists have a lot of experience contending with the ways in which some people try to snooker us. And last year, we got help from an unlikely quarter when talk show host John Oliver went on a tirade about how poorly the media covers medi­cal studies. Oliver cited wacky cases galore, many gathered from longtime member Gary Schwitzer, including the news that “smelling farts reduces cancer” even though the study behind it failed to mention flatulence. His spot-on advice was captured by AHCJ medical studies blogger Tara Haelle in a May 11 post.

• Now more than ever, our annual con­ference (April 20-23 in Orlando) has to reflect the key issues that journalists will be covering. Luckily, this gather­ing is already shaping up to be a block­buster. Of course, we’ll be feting the winners of our annual contest. And there’s an unexpected bonus for family members: Disney World is a few min­utes away from the hotel by bus.

• AHCJ has always had strong part­ners, and we choose new ones care­fully. For the first time, we are joining with the National Association of Sci­ence Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to help convene the World Conference of Science Journalists (Oct. 26-30 in San Francisco). This five-day gig marks the first time the health and science writ­ing confab will be held in the United States. AHCJ’s role is to organize the health and medicine track for the en­tire conference. This is a great opportu­nity to learn about the most important public health issues worldwide and connect with colleagues all over the planet.

This is just a start. We all recognize that priorities need to be reshaped continually. And we rely on you the most of that. So let us know how we can serve you better.

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