Tag Archives: new york times

An inside view of writing for New York Times’ Magazine

On the blog The OPEN Notebook, New York Times Magazine contributor Robin Marantz Henig spoke frankly with Jeanne Erdmann about everything that went into her piece, “Understanding the Anxious Mind.” A few years have passed since the piece’s publication, which might help explain why the reporter was willing to give such a thorough postmortem.

Highlights include:

  • The difference between a magazine article and a master’s thesis.
  • How to trick your agent into letting you write a book about Valium.
  • Dealing with a jumpy editor spooked by your previous false starts.
  • This sentence: “It was difficult to get the right kind of anxious people to interview.”
  • The difficulties that even a veteran writer has in pitching New York Times Magazine and the letters to prove it.
  • 15-20 drafts, and that’s before the NYT demanded another three or four rewrites.

(Hat tip to Paul Raeburn)

NYT’s health editor takes over the science section

Barbara Strauch, who has been the deputy science editor charged with coordinating The New York Times‘ health and medical coverage, is stepping up to become that newspaper’s science editor. On March 15, Strauch will take the place of Laura Chang, who led NYT science for six years. Chang will direct the paper’s “cross-departmental” coverage of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

According to a report from Curtis Brainard and Cristine Russell on CJR.org, Strauch will lead a 22-person department (not including freelancers) and plans to maintain the paper’s equal emphasis on both health and science.

In addition to already prominent health topics like genetics, Strauch told CJR that she thinks issues like sociology, demography and psychology will rise in profile in the coming year. She also told the reporters that she plans to hire somebody to replace her as health editor, but that she’s going to remain flexible in terms of department structure for the time being.

In an internal e-mail announcing the promotion, NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller praised Strauch’s work on the paper’s health section.

“What was already a major undertaking, discerning and covering the most important stories in a constant stream of medical research, tracking the changing worlds of physicians and pharmaceuticals, has been a gargantuan task as the costs and politics of health care have become a consuming national issue,” he wrote. “Barbara’s deep understanding of the issues, her exquisite sense of timing and her appreciation for good storytelling have enriched every part of this coverage.”

NYT’s Heffernan contrasts WebMD, MayoClinic.com

New York Times Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan has posted a take on the quality of online health information, framed as a side-by-side review of WebMD and MayoClinic.com. Her characterization of for-profit WebMD as a “hypochondria time suck” has garnered the most attention so far, but it seems almost tame compared to her attacks on the site’s ties to big pharma and her exhortation that users actively block that particular address from their web browsers.

As an example, after praising the Mayo Clinic’s restrained approach to patients looking to self-diagnose a headache (it waits until page eight to suggest OTC painkillers), Heffernan flips to WebMD and describes the site’s approach:

… if you plug “headache” and “WebMD” into Google, the Web opens to the glamorous, photo-dominated “Migraines and Headaches Health Center,” a sound-and-light show that seems itself like a headache trigger. There’s the requisite picture of a tastefully made-up young woman holding her head in exquisite agony. The headache “news,” flush right on the page, comes with more artful photos of lovely people in pain and includes scare headlines like “Headaches: When Is It an Emergency?” The first page contains no hard facts — you have to click and thereby drive up the site’s lucrative click-throughs — but instead quickly transforms visitors from Web users with headaches to hard-core migraineurs and drug consumers.

For the record, WebMD pulls in almost three times as many monthly page views as its nonprofit rival.


Initiatives not improving patient safety; poor implementation to blame

A large-scale study that followed mistakes in health care delivery at 10 North Carolina hospitals from 2002 to 2007 found that, despite state efforts, there was no improvement in patient safety over the time period. According to The New York Times‘ Denise Grady, the problem lay primarily not in design, but in execution. Even when safeguards were in place, they were not followed.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reviewed thousands of patient records and looked for any of 54 red flags that something had gone wrong.

Dr. [Christopher] Landrigan’s team focused on North Carolina because its hospitals, compared with those in most states, have been more involved in programs to improve patient safety.

But instead of improvements, the researchers found a high rate of problems. About 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care, some more than once, and 63.1 percent of the injuries were judged to be preventable. Most of the problems were temporary and treatable, but some were serious, and a few — 2.4 percent — caused or contributed to a patient’s death, the study found.

The findings were a disappointment but not a surprise, Dr. Landrigan said. Many of the problems were caused by the hospitals’ failure to use measures that had been proved to avert mistakes and to prevent infections from devices like urinary catheters, ventilators and lines inserted into veins and arteries.

Problems cited in the study include a lack of electronic medical records, doctors and nurses regularly working long hours and poor compliance with even simple interventions such as hand washing. Proposed solutions include computerized drug ordering systems and a mandatory nationwide monitoring system.

Ghostwritten textbook just ‘tip of the iceberg’

The New York Times‘ Duff Wilson has uncovered what he calls the first ghostwritten book. Published in 1999 under the names of two prominent psychiatrists, “Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care” coyly mentioned that it was funded by an unrestricted educational grant from the company that is now GlaxoSmithKline.

What it doesn’t mention is that GSK apparently also paid ghostwriters to create the outline and text of the book, then signed off on the final version. Up to this point, ghostwriting had been restricted to journal articles.

A Washington advocacy group called the Project for Government Oversight released documents detailing the relationship on Monday, but Wilson also  explains how the Times found their copies:

The documents were separately obtained by The New York Times from the Los Angeles law firm of Baum Hedlund, which received them as part of discovery in lawsuits against the drug company, now known as GlaxoSmithKline, involving Paxil. Leemon B. McHenry, a bioethicist with California State University, Northridge, who consults for the law firm, said many similar documents remain sealed. “This is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Wilson writes that the book was co-published by American Psychiatric Publishing and the American Medical Association. He does not, however, delve deeply into its content or address how it discusses Glaxo’s products.