Tag Archives: How I Did It

Lessons learned from reporting on sex trafficking survivor stories

Sandy West

When reporter Sandy West took on an assignment to cover a Texas program that offers comprehensive mental and physical health services to survivors of sex trafficking who identify as men, she quickly delved into a topic she didn’t know much about. In a recent interview, West, an independent reporter based in Houston, talked about how she prepared for the story and things reporters should keep in mind when talking to people who share memories of difficult experiences. Her story was published in September in The Imprint.

This discussion has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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How to use health equity data to cover access to COVID‑19 rapid tests

Victoria Knight

When the Biden Administration rolled out two COVID-19 rapid tests programs in mid-January, Kaiser Health News reporters Victoria Knight and Hannah Recht were separately researching the initiatives, including one that allowed Americans to get free tests through the U.S. Postal Service. Their reporting included interviewing experts and gathering U.S. Census Bureau data about health equity measures such as home-based internet subscription rates. 

The behind-the-scenes reporting illustrates how some stories are rooted in social media serendipity and collaboration. In this “How I Did It,” Knight and Recht explain how the article came together and why the data they compiled suggested that millions of Americans — mainly Black, Hispanic and Native American, and Alaska Native people — could face significant challenges in getting the rapid tests. (The following conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.)

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Award-winning journalist explains how to build meaningful connections with sources

Emily Woodruff

Emily Woodruff, a health care reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, was recognized as one of the winners of AHCJ’s 2021 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the beat reporting and health policy (small) categories at Health Journalism 2022.

Her winning local COVID-19 coverage offered a vivid picture of how Louisiana’s hospitals, health care providers and residents were coping with the ongoing pandemic and other events impacting health in communities, such as hurricanes, the opioid epidemic and other diseases. In many of her articles, Woodruff provided readers with a sense of connection to people featured in her stories. 

In this “How I did It,” Woodruff shares her process for building trust with sources and enlivening her stories. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How do you create captivating scenes in your articles? What are your top tips?

You can probably tell in the stories when I was there with someone as an interaction unfolded or when I got to meet someone in their environment. I think that helps a lot. During COVID, we weren’t able to do a lot of that, and it’s something I missed. I think health care reporters in general, have to spend more time interviewing someone for any given story. Often [health reporters] are interviewing people who aren’t used to talking to the media. For a lot of these stories, you have to spend some time [with them]. You have to indicate that you understand where they’re coming from. So, a lot of times that looks like just being informed about whatever issue it is that they’re facing.

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How an investigation gave voice to people whose bionic eye implants went obsolete

Eliza Strickland                                        Mark Harris

What happens to users of cutting-edge implants when the only company that makes the technology runs out of money? That’s the question we set out to answer during a year-long investigation of the Argus II retinal implant, manufactured by a California company called Second Sight Medical Products. The investigation was published by IEEE Spectrum in February and covered in a recent Science Friday broadcast. 

Strickland had first written for Spectrum about the company back in 2011, lauding the development of a revolutionary eye implant that restored a crude kind of artificial vision to blind people involved in Second Sight’s clinical trials. That article featured a New Yorker named Barbara Campbell, who had been completely blind since her 30s because of a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, but who could then make out rough shapes, figures and lights. The retinal implant connected wirelessly to a pair of sunglasses housing a low-resolution video camera. In 2013, the Argus II system was the first visual prosthesis to be approved by the FDA.

As the Argus II rolled out in the United States and around the world, many more such stories were written, typically showing users delighted to regain some vision — even if it was only flashes of light and shades of gray. Globally, over 350 people would ultimately have an Argus II implanted.

Late in 2020, Strickland revisited Second Sight to write a blog post about its latest project: a brain implant that stimulates the user’s visual cortex directly, potentially opening up its prosthetic system to a much wider group of people with vision challenges. Tucked away in that post were a few lines noting that the company had suspended production of the Argus II device and had recently suffered financial difficulties, nearly going out of business in early 2020. Strickland tried to contact the company for a status update, but didn’t get a response to her emails and phone calls. 

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Managing reporter burnout during the pandemic

Chelsea Cirruzzo

Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost every health reporter I’ve talked with has experienced both the professional thrill of writing about an unfolding science story and the personal feelings of fear, anxiety and grief about the virus. The energy that it takes to stay on top of this relentlessly evolving story and manage our own emotions has led to reporter burnout. For this “How I Did It,” one journalist, newer to the health care beat, shares how she’s been coping.

Chelsea Cirruzzo, a health and local news reporter for Axios, began utilizing social media in college to elevate her voice as a journalist. She used Twitter to help find sources and gained a following of almost 15,000. But as the pandemic has worn on, Cirruzzo has decided that for her own well-being, she needed to limit her activity on Twitter. Finding that boundary, among other decisions, is helping her manage burnout. 

You made reference on social media to burnout in covering the pandemic. I think a lot of journalists share this feeling. How did you manage these emotions while covering this story? 

I think it just kind of came in waves, where it was like, ‘Oh, no, this is really scary.’ And then, ‘Vaccines are coming! This is exciting.’ And then, you’re seeing that these same iterations of inequities [and people] who are not getting what they need just based on where they live, how old they are, and what race they are. The story [repeated] itself over and over again. But [at the same time], I think it’s so important and I wanted to do these stories. It was a lot to write about and a lot to handle. On top of that, we all had our own things going on. I live with a teacher, and I have health concerns and was worried about my family. So, it was tough.

In March of this year, I wrote about the challenges health reporters have faced during the pandemic for Nieman Reports and found out many of my colleagues had similar feelings of exhaustion and burnout. But also, some were dealing with challenges I haven’t faced: Some of them lost loved ones to COVID-19. Asian American reporters, not just health reporters, faced racist attacks because of anti-Asian rhetoric being pushed by the former president. It’s hard for health reporters to remove themselves from the story right now because the pandemic has hurt everyone, so how do you continuously cover something that has become so personal?

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