Category Archives: Conference

Tips for freelancers — from ideas to rewrites and beyond

Meryl Davids Landau

Meryl Davids Landau

Freelance writers, even those with years of experience, can run into challenges working with the editors who commission their pieces. At the “How to be your own copy editor (and advocate),” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin, editors and successful freelancers  shared tips in a session that evolved into a broader conversation between the panel and the audience.

Freelance writer Meryl Davids Landau began the session by offering a few tips based on her own experiences as both a novelist and a writer of nonfiction health and science articles.  She said writing fiction made her non-fiction writing better, and suggested  that writers try to make the anecdotes in their stories read more like fiction. “Put yourself in the readers’ shoes and ask if they are enjoying reading the article,” she said.

Landau also suggested that writers get ideas by attending scientific conferences, or simply by thinking of story that they are best situated to write, perhaps due to personal connections or contacts.

The three editors on the panel — Rob Waters of MindSite News, Carmel Wroth of National Public Radio (NPR) Shots Blog and Matthew B.H. Ong of The Cancer Letter — all emphasized how important it is for writers to stay in contact with their editors. “The most important thing about the relationship between an editor and a writer is that it is a relationship. As an editor, I want to connect with my writers,” Waters said.  It never hurts to overcommunicate, Wroth added, provided the writer keeps in mind that editors are themselves suffering from information overload. It’s particularly  important for writers to reach out when a story veers away from the original concept — and  Waters and Wroth both said that  a writer communicating that should also propose a solution.

A writer who has far too much information to put into a single article can always pitch a series to their editor. “They will probably say no,” Waters said, but at that point, the writer is free to pitch the other article to another publication (unless the contract with the original publication says otherwise).

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With Roe likely in its final days, experts say reporters should sharpen focus on abortion as a health issue

Photo by Erica TricaricoSophie Novack (on the left) and Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D. (on the right)

Pregnancy is a medical condition and abortion is an intervention for it, so journalists writing about the topic should take the same approach they would when writing about cancer, diabetes, and other conditions and treatments: focus on mortality risks, patients’ rights to care and bodily autonomy.

Reporters should also step up their game to explain what the medical community has known for decades: that abortion is a safe health care procedure.

These were among the topics covered by women’s reproductive health experts who participated in a round table discussion moderated by Brenda Goodman of CNN Health, about abortion on Saturday, April 30, at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin. The conversation took place two days before what appeared to be a leak of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade was published by Politico. The opinion would overturn abortion protection under Roe v. Wade.


Check out the full transcript of the round table discussion.

The speakers at the “Women’s reproductive health in a post-Roe world” round table included Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist in Austin; Lisa Harris, M.D. Ph.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan; Sonja Miller, interim managing director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance; and Sophie Novack, an independent journalist who has reported on the implications of Texas laws restricting abortions. Continue reading

Think outside the box when looking for human sources

Photo by Alex Green via pexels.

It can seem hard for journalists to find people open to sharing personal stories about sensitive topics.

But they can be found just about anywhere that people gather, in person or virtually including on social media, Gofundme pages and grocery stores. But they need to be approached with sensitivity, especially those dealing with trauma who may be particularly uncomfortable talking to reporters.

“Most people have no idea what the news gathering process is like,” said Noah Levey of Kaiser Health News, so it’s important to explain the journalistic process and be patient. It pays off, he said. “With the right person you can convey the complexity of how people actually live.”

The panelists at the April 28 session at Health Journalism 2022 — Levey, Pam Belluck of The New York Times, Alexis Allison of the Fort Worth Report, and moderator Anna Medaris of Insider — offered tips for finding everyday people and treating them with sensitivity.

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Rising prescription drug prices: What to know

Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., F.A.C.R. (Photo courtesy of Paola Rodriguez)

In pharmacies across the country, sticker shock is not uncommon. The high price of prescription drugs is one of the biggest problems facing the nation’s health care system, Joyce Frieden explained on Friday, April 29, during the “Covering the controversy over high prescription drug costs” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Each speaker offered a different perspective as to why prescription medications cost so much. Frieden’s expert panelists included Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Ph.D., the former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and current president of the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank on fiscal policy; Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, a practicing rheumatologist and president of the Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations; and Gerard Anderson, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and management and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“So, what is being done to solve the problem of high prescription drug costs?” asked Frieden, the Washington editor for MedPage Today. “And are there angles to this story that have yet to be fully covered today?”

Distinguishing between brand-name and generic drug prices

Holtz-Eakin began by talking about one of his frustrations with the usual coverage of drug costs. “When we talk about the high cost of prescription drugs, it’s important to be precise about which price we’re talking about,” he said. Too often journalists do not distinguish between the costs of brand-name and generic drugs or between the net price of drugs after rebates and discounts. Also, we often fail to write about the actual cost at the pharmacy counter and what consumers pay out of pocket, he noted. “Being clear about which price you’re trying to keep track of matters a lot,” he said.

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FDA Commissioner Califf sounds the alarm on health misinformation

Photo by Paola RodriguezRobert Califf, M.D., M.A.C.C., speaking with an attendee at Health Journalism 2022.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D., M.A.C.C., isn’t easy to rattle.

During a Q&A on Friday, April 29, at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin, he told journalists that after “surviving a harrowing confirmation process” he’s feeling confident about the FDA’s ability to tackle all of the challenges before it, including food safety, children’s COVID vaccines, teen vaping, among others.

Though the agency has been hit with criticism from lawmakers, industry and the public, he’s taking it in stride.

“I’m 70 years old. I’m relatively impervious to critique. What are they going to do to me now?” he said during the session moderated by AHCJ’s core topic leader on patient safety Kerry Dooley Young.

But the issue that keeps him up at night, he said, is the proliferation of false and misleading health information, particularly online — and the distrust in institutions, data and expertise that it has wrought.

“I believe that misinformation is now our leading cause of death,” he said, naming ongoing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, the number of people taking Ivermectin and the prevalence of vaping as examples of the problem. “Historically, the FDA has been relatively quiet and puts out definitive information through guidance or labels or regulatory actions … that would be transmitted to consumers and patients through trusted intermediaries. But the world has changed at this point.”

All this, he argued, had fueled the drop in life expectancy in the U.S. compared to other wealthy nations, and he urged reporters to avoid clickbait, lean into fact checking, make sure the headline matches the copy and take other steps to responsibly convey news about COVID-19 and other pressing health concerns.

“People are distracted and misled by the medical information Tower of Babel,” he said. “But journalists like yourselves play an important role here and your work has a tremendous impact on public trust.”

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