Beyond PitchFest: New market guides and tips for negotiating contracts

Photo by Paola RodriguezEditors attentively listen to freelancers pitch their ideas during PitchFest at Health Journalism 2022.

Hello freelancers! Many of you may be finalizing your pitches for the editors you met at PitchFest during Health Journalism 2022 in Austin and preparing to sign contracts. To help, I have added some new and revised market guides to the Freelance Center and provided a list of resources for negotiating contracts in case they contain clauses you don’t like.

And don’t forget to join our monthly Lunch & Learn discussion this Thursday. We will be discussing sourcing and reporting. Lunch & Learns provide an opportunity for member freelancers to chat about a designated topic over Zoom every third Thursday at 12 p.m. CST The Zoom link stays the same every month, and it can be found on the Networking tab at AHCJ’s Freelance Center.

New and revised market guides

Since last blogging about the market guides, I have added two new ones and one revised guide. Here are some quick summaries:

Grid News

This digital publication pays $2 per word for feature articles that range in length from 800 to 3,000 words. Science & Technology Editor Lauren Morello said, “Our sweet spot is the collision of science and medicine and policy.” Features typically approach a story through multiple lenses such as science, economics, misinformation, the law, politics and technology.

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Gaps in medical, legal systems may allow other ‘Dr. Deaths’ to practice, panelists say

Panelists of “Dr. Death” session (from left to right): Matt Grant of KXAN, Kay Van Wey, an attorney of medical malpractice at Van Wey Law PLLC; Laura Beil, an independent journalist and award-winning host and reporter of “Dr. Death” podcast; Lisa B. Robin of the Federation of State Medical Boards and Ware Wendell of Texas Watch (Photo courtesy of KXAN and Chris Nelson.)

Journalists must draw attention to the failures in the U.S. medical and legal systems that allowed Christopher Duntsch, the subject of journalist Laura Beil’s well-regarded “Dr. Death” podcast series, to injure dozens of patients, members of an expert panel said at the “10 years after ‘Dr. Death’: Are patients any safer from bad doctors?” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Despite the publicity generated by Beil’s work and that of other journalists about this case, there’s still too little protection for patients against doctors who already have been proven incompetent, said speakers at the April 30 session. Doctors may change hospitals or even states and continue to practice after harming patients, due in large part to a reluctance among physicians and hospital administrators to report harms, they said.

Matt Grant of KXAN Austin presented highlights from his “Still Practicing” series, which looked at how doctors with problematic histories have been able to transfer to new hospitals.

In the website that houses the videos from the series, Grant and colleagues note that February 2022 marked the fifth anniversary of the conviction of Duntsch for injury to an elderly person, which resulted in a life sentence.

Grant and KXAN colleagues pulled thousands of physician disciplinary records from medical boards across the United States. The records were then checked against the Texas Medical Board’s physician portal one name at a time. The KXAN team said they found at least 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states — including having their medical licenses suspended, revoked or surrendered — who were still practicing or able to in Texas. Some of the physicians were repeat offenders with actions in multiple states. Criminal charges previously filed against doctors included ones for driving drunk, domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance and operating a firearm while intoxicated.

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Fungal infections are next chapter in reporting on superbugs

A medical illustration of Candida sp. fungal organisms. (Photo courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library)

Reporters looking to write about the next chapter in antimicrobial resistance should get up to speed on fungal infections.

“The future is going to be a fungal problem,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., chief of CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, during the “Antimicrobial resistance during and after COVID-19” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Fungi are spore-producing organisms like yeast, molds and mushrooms. About 100 of them are known to cause disease in humans. Deadly antimicrobial resistant fungal infection cases,  already rising in nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic,  accelerated during the past two years, according to the CDC.

Hospital overuse of antibiotics, especially during the first year of the pandemic when there were few options for treating patients, plus the use of steroids to treat lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, both contributed to increases in resistant fungal infections with high mortality rates.

“COVID … introduced a bit of an unfortunate perfect storm” that enabled more and broader transmission of fungal infections in hospitals, Chiller said.

In 2017, according to the most recent CDC data, 75,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for fungal infections, but that’s likely an underestimate. These infections often go undiagnosed and there is no national public health surveillance of common fungal infections, according to the CDC. Globally, about 13.5 million severe fungal infections — and 1.6 million deaths — are reported annually to public health officials, according to the non-profit Global Action for Fungal Infections.

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How to cover opioid lawsuits and settlement money

Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter and moderator of the “Following the opioid settle money” panel session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Billions of dollars are soon to be rolling out in the states to settle thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Journalists will play an essential role in shedding light on whether the dollars will actually go towards addressing the opioid crisis, which killed an estimated 80,816 Americans in 2021, and more than 500,000 since 1999, according to CDC data. Overall drug overdose deaths were 107,622 in 2021, up 15% from 2020.

To help reporters cover this topic, Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter, Shelly Weizman, a lawyer at the Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National and Global Law center and Albie Park, an addiction counselor, offered resources and tips during a May 1 session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

“If we are going to get this right with these opioid settlements, it’s going to take a great deal of accountability and transparency and staying on top of this,” said Weizman, who is also associate director of addiction and public policy initiative at the O’Neill Institute.

Earlier this year, the nation’s three largest drug distributors and a drug manufacturer agreed to pay $26 billion to settle thousands of state and local lawsuits, while Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to settle lawsuits and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Other lawsuits are still pending, but money from the cases settled are expected to begin flowing in 2022.

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Spotlight Q&A with Marlene Harris-Taylor of Ideastream Public Media, Cleveland

Marlen Harris-Taylor, AHCJ Board Member

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How long have you been an AHCJ member, and who or what inspired you to join? 

I started as a health journalist in 2013 and joined AHCJ about a year after that, when I attended a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. I wanted to increase my knowledge and I heard about AHCJ through an advertisement. 

Where are you from and how far did you travel to this year’s  conference?

I am originally from Toledo, Ohio. I now live and work in Cleveland.

What do you think is the biggest asset of AHCJ and why?

I appreciate the AHCJ conferences because the panels have a mixture of journalists and professionals sharing their expertise. This national meeting brings journalists to a wonderful space to learn.

How have the resources AHCJ provides impacted your career?

One of the wonderful things that AHCJ does year-round is host training sessions. They also provide financial assistance for journalists to attend the sessions which is appreciated. I remember the first training that I attended. It included not only learning, but networking with journalists from across the country.

What keeps you coming back to these conferences? 

One of my favorite parts of the conference is that you always come away with ideas for a new story. At the AHCJ 2022 conference this weekend, I met an African American panelist from Chicago who started a company that assists Black and brown people in health care. Coincidentally, he is looking to expand to Cleveland. You’re learning and getting deeper knowledge, but you’re also getting the immediate benefit of stories that you can write.

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