Contest entries provide insights, education into reporting

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.

One of the most inspiring parts of my job comes every spring: That’s when I get to see the winning entries in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Often they are pieces I’ve seen over the previous year – many of which I’ve blogged or tweeted about or we’ve had the reporters write about their work for us. But there are always a few surprises that I had missed when they were published or aired.

Andrew Holtz, a health news veteran and longtime contest judge, has had the same experience. “Like most AHCJ members, I follow health news closely. Still, several of the entries surprised me. Not only were they delightful pieces of journalism, they revealed stories I hadn’t known,” Holtz said in an email.

One of last year’s surprises came in the small investigative category, a piece by Alexandra Robbins in Washingtonian Magazine called “Children are dying.” It was the account of “a nationwide shortage of IV nutrients so drastic that hospitals were hoarding, rationing, and bartering them in order to keep patients from dying.”

Another eye-opener was Sex and dementia in nursing homes, by Bryan Gruley, John Brecher and Cecile Daurat for Bloomberg News. As the judges commented, “Sex is important, but hard to talk about. Our parents having sex is harder to talk about. Policies about consent for sex between elderly people with dementia in care facilities are monstrously difficult to devise.”

But, whether the winning pieces are new to me or they are stories I’ve followed and shared, every year I am so impressed at the high quality of journalism that reporters, editors, producers, photographers and videographers are accomplishing.

Reading the questionnaires  that contest entrants fill out about how they did their reporting is always illuminating – it’s a great way to learn about new resources or techniques to get critical information.

I hear from journalists all the time about the dearth of time and resources available to them. I remember the pressures from the days when I worked in newsrooms. Yet, health journalists are still turning out remarkable stories about public health, mental illness, disparities in health care, conflicts of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, the misadventures of health care workers and so much more.

What stories will I be impressed and inspired by in just a few months? Think back over the past year and pick out your best work, then enter it in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism so it can inspire all of us.

The final deadline is Jan. 16 but if you enter before Dec. 20, you can take advantage of the discounted early-bird entry fee. And, you do not have to be a member of AHCJ to enter or win. In fact, our membership coordinator, Brandi McGrath, tells me that if you aren’t a member and you enter the contest this year, you get a one-time discount code that lowers the membership fee from $60 to $45. (Valid for new members only.) Become a part of the world’s leading professional organization dedicated to better reporting on health and health care.

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