Dozens of freelancers participate in AHCJ’s second virtual PitchFest

AHCJ’s second virtual PitchFest was held late last month with 67 freelance members participating. Writers pitched their ideas to top health editors from 21 publications, including AARP, Discover Magazine, Kaiser Health News, National Geographic, The New York Times and Scientific American.

Freelancers signed up in advance for 10-minute sessions with editors. These meetups allowed them to pitch a story idea and better understand the types of stories editors want today. Both sides welcomed the opportunity to get to know one another and consider assignments.

“I’ve always appreciated all the work and organization that must go into PitchFest to make it run so smoothly. Last year I had no idea how things would go when PitchFest moved online, but I ended up loving the accessibility and increased privacy (and I am still writing for one of the editors I met there!). I found this year’s new platform even easier to use. But I’m still looking forward to the next in-person event,” said Sheila M. Eldred, an independent journalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The one-on-one dynamics of the in-person event translated well to the online format, especially for Elizabeth Devita Raeburn, executive editor at Everyday Health, who calls herself an “extroverted introvert.”

“I love PitchFest, not only because it’s a pragmatic way to recruit new writers (and I always need them), but because it’s a novel way to get to know people in the field who I might not otherwise have encountered,” Raeburn said. “I’m looking forward to seeing all my people in person when AHCJ goes live again.”

Kyung Song, senior health editor at WebMD, said PitchFest allowed her to meet with 18 writers in two days. “I was delighted to recruit almost every one of them to join our talented roster of freelancers for WebMD,” Song said.

The virtual PitchFest was a valuable resource for independent journalist Larry Beresford, based in Oakland, California.

“Of course I’d rather meet the editors in person, but reality doesn’t always cooperate,” Beresford said. “This year, in particular, I found it gave a real jump start to my pitching, which goes up and down depending on my backlog of assignments.”

For Beresford, a couple of pitches almost led to on-the-spot assignments, with a few details to confirm afterward. Even without an immediate assignment, a one-on-one opportunity can confirm an editor’s receptiveness, which is why Beresford prefers this way of pitching over email.

While it is unusual for a freelancer to get a definitive assignment at PitchFest, several writers received assignments before the 10 minutes were up. Ana Ivey, in Senoia, Georgia, said she invested time studying the publications and searched to see if they had written anything on her pitch topics in the recent past. “Two years in a row, I’ve gotten stories directly assigned from PitchFest,” Ivey said.

“Of the three publications I pitched this year, one gave me an assignment on the spot (Rural Health Quarterly), another liked my pitch and is sharing it with another editor (NYT), and the third added me to their list of go-to writers (WebMD). Overall, a good outcome for me,” Ivey said.

Freelance medical and science writer Karen Blum, based in the Baltimore area, spoke with four editors and has received an assignment from one so far. It is “a story for Cancer Today on a community cancer program in North Carolina providing free transportation to people in certain ZIP codes that were well-known for appointment no-shows,” Blum said. “It’s due to the magazine in December.”

The Eastern time zone did make for some challenges for some West Coast writers, however.

“Living on the West Coast, the prospect of getting up early enough to deal with the editors’ time zones and speak coherently seemed daunting enough that I tried to sleep-train myself days in advance,” said Wendy Wolfson, an independent journalist in Irvine, California. “I had some good conversations, and it was a fine opportunity to pitch some new publications.”

The plan for 2022 is to return to an in-person PitchFest at AHCJ’s annual Health Journalism conference, to be held in Austin, Texas, April 28-May 1, 2022. Stay tuned for more conference details in the coming months on the AHCJ website.

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