Preparing for PitchFest and tips for making the most of Health Journalism 2022

AHCJ Health Journalism 2022 is around the corner, with many opportunities aimed specifically at freelance journalists. Register by March 28 to take advantage of the early bird rate.

Editors meet with independent journalists at PitchFest at Health Journalism 2016. (Photo by Pia Christensen)

One of the most exciting opportunities is PitchFest, which is scheduled for the afternoon of Friday, April 29. Sixteen editors from top publications are coming to the conference to hear your story ideas. They include editors from AARP, WebMD, National Geographic, Everyday Health, Kaiser Health News and NPR. More details about each editor can be found on the Friday event schedule page on the AHCJ website.

You must sign up in advance for each ten-minute appointment with an editor. The online sign-up period opens on Monday, April 4, 10 a.m. CST, allowing for a maximum of three appointments. I would suggest blocking out that time on your calendar now and planning to sign up that morning. Some editors are extremely popular and appointments with them go fast. The link to sign up will appear on the PitchFest page on the AHCJ website that morning.

There is no guarantee that you will get an assignment on the spot at PitchFest, but it does happen. You increase your chances of getting an assignment on the day or through follow-up emails by coming to each appointment with a well-researched pitch.

The PitchFest page has more details about preparing for the event, including five simple rules for PitchFest etiquette:

  1. Show up. If you fail to show up for any of your appointments, you will not be allowed to sign up in advance for next year’s PitchFest. Additionally, be aware that the booked editor will have your name, potentially harming your reputation with that publication for years to come.
  2. Prepare properly. We’ve posted blurbs from editors describing what they want, so read those to customize your pitch to what each editor wants. For example, news editors won’t want to hear a pitch for a feature. Study the publication to ensure your pitch is a good fit.
  3. Arrive in plenty of time. We will run on time and we will run like clockwork. If you are late, you forfeit your pitch.
  4. Respect the time limit. When you hear the one-minute warning, start to wrap up. When you hear time called, thank the editor and tell them that you will follow up with an email.
  5. Understand the limits. Please recognize that attending PitchFest does not guarantee you a sale. It does guarantee you an opportunity to pitch face-to-face to editors who are extremely difficult to access, even by email.

Of course, independent journalists don’t come to the conference just for PitchFest. There are panels geared towards freelancers and panels to help all journalists build their skills. You’ll hear from experienced journalists and editors about how to craft a successful pitch, negotiate fees, find sources, incorporate narrative writing into your stories, and much more.

The panels at this year’s conference about important health topics, such as climate change, racial justice, the pandemic, cancer screening and more, will help you generate story ideas. And each day, there will be opportunities to network with fellow journalists, panelists, editors and representatives from hospitals and trade groups.

Karen Blum, AHCJ’s core topic leader on health IT and an independent journalist in the Baltimore area, has written a tip sheet for getting the most out of the conference. I highly recommend reading it before arriving in Austin.

I look forward to seeing you at Health Journalism 2022!

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