Reporters suddenly thrown into health beat need veterans’ support

Pia Christensen

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.

In an op-ed for the Columbia Journalism Review, Ivan Oransky, M.D., draws on an apt metaphor for reporters from other beats who are being assigned health-related stories during this pandemic.

“I imagine that the dread a newly transferred coronavirus reporter feels when faced with a PDF filled with statistics is the same as I would feel if —as a career-long doctor turned medical journalist — I was suddenly assigned to cover the statehouse.”

Similarly, I think I’d feel the same panic if suddenly assigned to cover real estate. The health beat is complex, competitive and important, with many competing interests. I frequently rely on colleagues to help me understand complicated concepts and delicate nuances. Fortunately, I have the membership of AHCJ to rely upon and it, as a rule, is a smart and incredibly helpful group of people.

Ivan, in his usual generous spirit, has written a guide for those just being initiated into the health care beat. Much of it is advice that AHCJ members have heard often, but non-health writers might need learn why they should:

  • Read the entire paper
  • Avoid disease mongering
  • Not rely on study authors
  • Remember correlation is not causation

See this piece for more explanation of those and many more tips. (Note Oransky is president of AHCJ and vice president, editorial for Medscape, as well as co-founder of Retraction Watch.)

In addition, I’d like to remind health reporters and those new to the beat about some of AHCJ’s resources and a new membership deal to help you get up to speed.

We have increased our coverage of the coronavirus and COVID-19 with coverage from many angles. Our core topic leaders have contributed pieces on how the results of medical studies have been portrayed to the public, how COVID-19 is affecting the aging and those in nursing homes, finding sources, unauthorized COVID-19 test sites, what the costs of caring for COVID-19 patients will mean for insurance companies and hospitals and much more.

On the fly, we built a whole section of healthjournalism.org just for coronaviruses and COVID-19 resources that includes key concepts, tip sheets, “How I Did It” stories and more. That includes tip sheets from as far back as 2006, to refute anyone who might claim that “Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion.” And then, we opened all that material to the public.

While you don’t have to be an AHCJ member to access those resources, I’d like to encourage you to join us. As a member, you’ll get full access to all areas of the site – we have tip sheets on nearly any subject you might cover. You’ll also have the opportunity to join the email discussion list, where you can ask colleagues anything about the health beat. On the list, our members are generous with their time and even their source lists.

Right now, AHCJ is offering a discounted six-month membership to non-health journalists to allow them access to the resources they need right now.

AHCJ offers an extensive website featuring a daily blog, reporting tip sheets, health-related datasets, how-to articles by fellow journalists, reporting guidebooks and complimentary access to more than 50 medical and health journals and databases. Take a look at the other benefits we have to offer.

This offer is for a limited time, so act while you can to support the accuracy and effectiveness of your own reporting

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