AHCJ members provide context for reporter’s medical marijuana story

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

This is a guest post written at our request by Ryan Sabalow of the Redding (Calif.) Record-Searchlight.

I knew I was on the trail of a good health-business story one afternoon last summer when I switched over to Redding’s hip-hop radio station and heard a doctor advertising that for a mere $149, she’d evaluate a patient for medical marijuana use.

Ryan Sabalow

Ryan Sabalow

The story that emerged took a look at how a growing number of doctors in California are giving up traditional practices to make easy cash selling medical marijuana recommendations to just about anyone who wants one.

The story ended up winning a first-place award for best business story in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers contest.

The story wouldn’t have turned out so well without the help of members of the Association of Health Care Journalists, who helped me find ideas for a sidebar that explored how other states were handling the medical marijuana issue.

As I was researching the story, I asked AHCJ members on the organization’s electronic discussion list for pointers.

Within a few hours, I got a number of helpful tips and links to stories. One was about “cannabis caravans” in Montana.

In Colorado, a reporter suggested I get in touch with a source who criticized the fact that five doctors in that state account for half of all recommendations given to the state’s medical marijuana patients.

Those perspectives proved invaluable. And it’s fair to say the story wouldn’t have had the same context and impact without AHCJ’s help.

I’d suggest any reporter working on a local health story first shoot a note out on the list asking for some national perspectives.

I know I will.

Thanks, AHCJ.

[Editor’s note: We also suggest that AHCJ members search the list’s archive, which contains all of the messages that have been exchanged on the list since its 2001 inception. It’s a great way to tap the wisdom of our members.]

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