About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ membership guidelines updated, made more inclusive Date: 08/11/10

The AHCJ board of directors in June voted unanimously to revise the association's membership guidelines in an effort to involve more journalists and have a more consistent approach to eligibility.

The board and its membership committee spent a year debating how to make AHCJ more inclusive while being true to the core value upon which the association was founded – serving independent health journalists. For more than a decade, AHCJ has had among the tightest membership eligibility rules of any journalism association. That will continue, but with the recognition of the changing dynamics of journalism employment.

"Under our expanded eligibility, more journalists will be able to take advantage of the many resources of AHCJ and their inclusion will make us a stronger organization," said Phil Galewitz, chair of the AHCJ membership committee and a correspondent for Kaiser Health News. "At the same time, we are once again making it perfectly clear that AHCJ will not permit members who conduct public or media relations, with the exception of officers of independent, nonpartisan health and journalism foundations."

The amount of dues will not change. The annual membership fee for professional membership will remain $60. Foundation officials will continue to pay $90 and students will pay $30.

The changes mean everyone joining or rejoining will have to answer three questions to determine if the applicant is involved in public or media relations. Under AHCJ rules, anyone involved in those activities is barred from membership, with the exception of officers of independent health or journalism foundations, who can apply for associate membership.

For freelancers, who make up a growing segment of membership, there will be several changes. Under the new rules, to be eligible for the professional membership category, freelancers will have to spend at least half their work time on journalism. Previously, freelancers had to earn at least half their annual income from journalism.

The change reflects the fact that journalists often have no control over pay schedules and may spend the bulk of their time on independent journalism but receive more income elsewhere.

At the same time, the board opted to make room – through associate membership – for freelancers spending less than half their time on journalism but who still can show they routinely produce such work. Those who meet the criteria will be eligible for all member benefits except voting rights, board eligibility and transition assistance.

"The board made this decision because it realizes with the difficult economic times and other demands, journalists often work in other fields to make ends meet," Galewitz said. "Again, applicants who do any public or media relations work will be barred from membership."

The new member rules also clarify that journalists working for trade publications owned by health-related organizations – either for profit, nonprofit or governmental – and aimed at external audiences will be allowed into AHCJ as long as they do not have a public or media relations role. Such reporters and editors have been allowed to join in the past on a case-by-case basis.

"The membership committee sought out the opinions of many journalists in devising these rules and they represent our best effort at having a strong, diverse membership while remaining true to our mission," Galewitz said. "We welcome feedback."

Send comments or questions about the new policies to Galewitz at pgalewitz@kff.org.