Tips for finding local stories about health reform

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org. Follow her on Facebook.

Last week, Stacey Singer, of The Palm Beach Post, and I led a workshop on  “Ten Local Health Stories” (actually we sort of went quite a bit over the “10” limit) for the Excellence in Journalism (EIJ12) conference, sponsored by SPJ and RTNDA in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve posted my overview, Stacey’s very hands-on and helpful local take, and a resource list (adapted from, but not identical too, the resources we’ve been assembling for more than a year on the AHCJ Health Reform core topic pages).

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Oral Health
Other Topics

We also wanted to thank the Alliance for Health Reform for shipping to Florida a box of its very handy resource guide . (Disclosure: I wrote one of the overview chapters, although wasn’t involved with the more recent updates to it.)

The session went on for more than an hour, so I’m not going to try to describe it all, but wanted to just share a few points we made:

  • There are a lot of resources – here at AHCJ and many other places – that help you break that big confusing health law into digestible pieces. If you are at a smaller news outlet and can’t get the big national names on the phone (and some will be more accessible than you think), you can still read their blogs and websites to understand and report their point of view. Many of the national associations, professional groups, consumer advocacy organizations, medical societies, etc., have local or state chapters and affiliates. As I told the workshop, it’s probably possible to write a health story that consists almost entirely of prepositions and acronym – but it’s also possible to take that alphabet soup and turn it into compelling narratives, or into plain English policy stories that help your readers/viewers/listeners start to understand the coming changes to the health system.
  • Use Twitter. Yes you have to filter out the noise, but a lot of pretty serious people tweet links to issue briefs, interesting articles, industry reports etc. Useful hashtags include #hcr (health care reform) #ACA (Affordable Care Act). There are dozens of others (health, health reform, hcsm, insurance, Medicare , cancer, etc.)
  • There’s a lot – a lot – of innovation and experimentation going on in health care. Not just in the big cities or academic centers. And not just dealing with specifics of the health law. There are change adopters – and change resisters – in every community. Find both.
  • As Charlie Ornstein noted in a recent column, it’s important to write about health care – not just the process and politics surrounding health care. But politics are a legitimate part of the story – health care has become part of our politics, and the process and politics in turn shapes health care. One reason people fight so much about health care is because it has become part of the larger and very deep and bitter fight going on in this country right now about the size and role of government.

Stacey had some very practical suggestions (and I’m going to include some of her ideas on the resource page – but wanted to h/t her here for all her help). But for those of you looking for ways to find “real people” including the uninsured and underinsured to interview, here are some of her suggestions:

  1. Social Media
  2. Free/reduced price clinics
  3. Health fairs
  4. Nonprofit organizationss like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or a cancer foundation
  5. Visit small businesses and chat
  6. Advocacy groups  (Call Families USA for help finding local ones. They also have story banks).

She also said she often gets their contact information and asks if she can reach out to them again for stories in the future.

Joanne KenenJoanne Kenen (@JoanneKenen) is AHCJ’s health reform topic leader. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources, please send them to joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Her presentation has a lot of other practical tips.

And by the way, we had a good engaging workshop and people stayed and talked for quite some time afterwards, and followed up with me in hallways later. But I still like AHCJ conferences better…

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