Ideas worth stealing from Health Journalism 2013 #ahcj13

Health Journalism 2013, Boston edition, is officially a wrap. I traveled home with tons of useful tricks and story ideas, and because it’s my job to help you do yours… you’re going to get to steal some of my best pickups right here, right now.

  1. Media access to Science Direct: If you report on medical studies, you know the importance of reading the entire article – not just the abstract – before you write. Many top journals offer free media access to reporters who agree to honor embargo policies.  But sometimes, a PubMed search will turn up a review or an older article that you really, really need to see, but you only have hours to get your hands on it. In that case, you can try emailing the authors for a copy of the article, but for many reasons, that’s not always the ideal strategy. Sometimes your only option is to pay for access, and that can get expensive, with prices ranging from $15-$45 for article downloads. So you can imagine how happy I was to hear one of the workshop speakers mention that Elsevier offers free media access to Science Direct, its full-text database of 2,500 journals and 11,000 books. {Editor’s note: AHCJ members have access to that and other journals and databases.] Signing up also gets you access to Scopus, a database of abstracts that includes research presented at conferences. It’s solid gold if you’re looking to follow trends in research, but beware, abstracts presented at conferences haven’t been peer-reviewed, and many are never published, which sometimes means the reflect preliminary or poor quality science. Reporters can email for access.
  2. Panic earlier: Karen Weintraub is busy. She teaches, writes books, and still finds the time to turn out regular health articles for the Boston Globe and USA Today. She’s also a mom.  How does she do it? “I’ve learned that panic is the key to managing time. The trick is knowing when to panic.” If you panic too late, it doesn’t do any good, Weintraub explains. If you’re someone who struggles with the juggle, see if you can reset some of your inner alarms to go off earlier in the reporting process. For example, if your sources are not getting back to you and your story is due tomorrow afternoon, panic tonight. Start sending emails and lining up back-up interviews now. Don’t wait until tomorrow morning. Why? In my experience, doctors are available for quick interviews at three times during the day – very early in the morning, before they start seeing patients, during lunch, and then later in the evening, after they finish their clinical work. If you email at night, you’ll have a much better chance of nabbing an early morning or lunch interview than if you waited until the next morning.
  3. Productivity tools: I’m usually so busy reporting and writing that I never think too much about how I’m doing it. Thanks to many of the freelance panels at the conference, I realized I could probably be working more efficiently thanks to some clever new tools. Evernote is a free note-taking app that’s a bit like Microsoft’s OneNote, but on steroids.  Like OneNote, it saves text in notebooks, but it can also save audio files, and with the additional Web clipper tool, snips Web pages. I’m still getting the hang of it, but it seems like the biggest advantage of Evernote is that you can save your notes in one place and access them from other devices, like smartphones and tablets. Mac users were buzzing about a tool called DEVONthink that not only stores notes and downloads but can automatically associate them with each other using a nifty little feature called the magic hat. Hitting the magic hat button can help you find long-forgotten interviews, PDFs or other files that might be relevant to the topic at hand. Other helpful apps included programs like Freedom and Concentrate that lock users out of the Internet for set blocks of time so you can get things done. And many sang the praises of using text expanders – programs that recognize short abbreviations (i.e. cntct) and substitute those with phrases you commonly use, like your name and contact information at the end of an email. Is all of this too techy for you? Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn confessed that she finally gave up on electronic tools in favor of more visual methods (i.e. good old pen and paper.) She and others professed their love for the planner pad, a three-level organizer that helps you break down big projects into smaller goals and finally daily to-do lists all on the same page. Simple, but pretty brilliant, too.

I didn’t make it to every session, so I’d love to hear what tips from the meeting you found to be helpful.  Leave a comment below or email me at

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