Tag Archives: online media

Pfizer’s online community about aging fails to impress blogger

If you don’t know about Ronni Bennett’s blog – Time Goes By: what it’s really like to get older – you should.

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It’s one of the most consumer-centered sources of information about aging on the Internet. For the most part, it’s written by people experiencing this stage of life firsthand, not those studying or writing about it from a distance.

Bennett was a longtime journalist before she ran into what she calls “a wall of age discrimination” and ended up forcibly retired. The blog expresses her values: Drop the pretense, tell it like it is, and steer clear of advertising and sales pitches.

Bennett describes the site’s genesis this way:

“It was launched in 2003 after I had spent seven or eight years on a personal research project to find out what it’s like to grow old. There wasn’t much good news. From the popular press to scholarly and medical journals, books, government, advocacy groups and NGOs, one message stood out: aging equals decline, disease and debility. No one had anything good to say about it.

Refusing to believe that my future would be that sad and bleak, and since no one else was was doing it, I decided to write about what it’s really like to get old. I had no illusions then that there would be much audience for such a loser topic but in time, I was happily proved wrong.”

If you spend time on the blog, you’ll find an abundance of riches. In addition to regular posts from Bennett and other contributors, there is a carefully compiled list of blogs by and about elders – a gold mine for reporters. There is Bennett’s touching description of her mom’s final illness and death, a subject that all kinds of writers have been tackling recently in various publications. (More on this later in another blog post)

And there is a weblog, the Elder Storytelling Place, where people can share their day-to-day experiences with humor, tenderness, practicality, or any other approach that seems fitting. I especially like the way Bennett introduces this section:

“Among Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging is to find meaning in one’s life and one way to help in this task is to pull together, piece by piece, one’s memories – great and small – into a coherent storyline. In doing so, there is a natural shift of our attention inward, says Jung, leading to the removal of regret and to reconciliation. In telling our stories we not only fulfill Jung’s task for ourselves, we pass on the wisdom we have gained to those who listen or read.”

I thought of Time Goes By this week when I encountered the media buzz accompanying a new initiative called “Get Old,” funded by drug giant Pfizer and supported by advocacy organizations such as the National Alliance for Caregiving and Easter Seals.

(See the press release here. For selected media coverage, see the Washington Post‘s write-up and CBS Money Watch’s and USA Today‘s.)

The centerpiece of this project is a new website, www.GetOld.com. In press release speak, the site is touted as a “first-of-its-kind online community” where “people can get and share information, add to the dialogue, and contribute to the growing body of knowledge” about aging.

I imagine Bennett might object to that description. And I’m darned sure she’d object to Pfizer’s sponsorship of this venture as well. (See her recent post, “No Way to Treat a Crabby Elderblogger,” if you have any doubts.)

It’s a savvy move on Pfizer’s part, aligning itself with all those consumer organizations, adopting an attitude of listening to people with an open, curious mindset, positioning itself as a company that helps people live longer and enjoy new experiences. But do not deceive yourself for even an instant: The goal here is to bolster the Pfizer brand and, ultimately, sell more of the drugs that the company links so effectively with longevity and quality of life.

If you have any doubts, see this Pfizer-sponsored video on the company’s “Smart Marketing Page” for the “Get Old” campaign. (I must be getting old: I’ve never encountered a Smart Marketing Page before. I use caps here, as in the press release, to emphatically express the importance of such a page.)

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Maybe all the participating consumer organizations have received assurances that no cleverly disguised sales pitches will appear on www.GetOld.com and that all information deriving from this project will be unbiased. But, fellow journalists, do you trust that will be the case? And why did so many stories about this initiative ignore that issue and swallow the Gallup & Robinson survey results – the news peg in the press release designed to secure media coverage – hook, line and sinker?


Bennett sent me some comments about the “Get Old” site after I let her know I was writing this post. I’ve edited them below for length.

“Mostly I object to the website. What a disaster. It violates just about every established guideline for useful, readable, entertaining websites, so much so for elders in both design and content that it’s an insult to us.

As you undoubtedly know, individual elders age at dramatically different rates than people in younger stages of life so that sometimes an 80-year-old’s decline – as in eyesight, for example – can be no more than that of a 50- or 60-year-old. Other times, a 60-year-old can have aged as much as an average 80-something. This also applies to one’s emotional, intellectual and psychic development.

So to section the website by age makes no sense at all, especially when they encourage readers to register their ages so that they can, as the site states, “provide you with stories and information that are relevant and customized for you.” It just doesn’t work that way when talking about elders.

Long before old age, by 40 on average, the majority of us wear reading glasses. But Pfizer has made the text so tiny on their section-front pages, there is no way to know the subject of the item before clicking on it and, even then, the topic is often unclear.

As people age, their eyes have trouble distinguishing between certain colors when they abut one another: red/orange, for example, and blue/green. Yet Pfizer – on that awful “jumble” page of unreadable topics – mixes blue and green boxes that too many elders will blend together.

The site fails aesthetically from page one; there is nothing inviting there, nothing engaging, nothing to pique anyone’s interest. It’s badly conceived and executed.

Majority of bloggers call themselves journalists

On his Journalistics blog, Jeremy Porter assessed a recent PRWeek/PR Newswire survey on blogging and online journalism. Attitudes in both arenas are shifting fast, and this year’s results are markedly different than 2009’s. The highlight is that 52 percent of bloggers now consider themselves journalists. It’s not clear whether that’s because more traditional journalists have blogs or because bloggers are wielding more influence and becoming more established.

Porter tried to tease out what made the two identities different.

… 91 percent of bloggers use blogs and social networks “always” or “sometimes” for research (compared to 35 percent for newspapers). Put differently, most blogs rely on other bloggers — and anybody they find on social networks — as sources. This is part of the reason accurate and misinformation spreads quickly online — many bloggers copy each other.

Talking specifics, the study found that 64 percent of bloggers and 36 percent of online reporters use Twitter as a research tool for stories, but only 19 percent of newspaper reporters and 17 percent of print magazine reporters use this social medium as a research. Does this signal a lack of sophistication and comfort with social media among traditional journalists, or do they know something bloggers don’t, like the best sources aren’t found in a sea of tweets? It’s probably a mixture of both.

And here’s a quick summary of the more interesting survey results. Sentences have been edited for brevity and coherence, but most of it is taken directly from the press release.

  • Over 70% of respondents in this year’s survey indicate a heavier workload as compared to last.
  • 62% are required to write for online news sections, with 39% contributing to their publication’s blog.
  • 37% of U.S. journalists also now must maintain a Twitter feed.
  • 31% of respondents indicated that “staff cuts/layoffs” most affected their jobs over the past three years,significantly higher than 2009 (22%).
  • When asked if building a personal brand was a consideration in their work, the majority of U.S. (52%) media (60%) responded either “extremely important” or “important.”
  • Only 20% of bloggers derive the majority of their income from their blog work; a 4% increase from 2009.
  • While 91% of bloggers and 68% of online reporters “always” or “sometimes” use blogs for research, only 35% of newspaper and 38% of print magazine journalists suggested the same.
  • Overall, 33% of respondents indicated using social networks for research, but blogger usage (48%) was greater than newspaper (31%) and print magazine (27%).
  • PR professionals still consider e-mail to be the most effective means for pitching journalists (74%), 43% of journalists report having being pitched through social networks compared to 31% in 2009.

AHCJ member founds local health news site

AHCJ member Dave Gulliver, formerly of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, launched the nonprofit Sarasota Health News late Wednesday night. In less than 24 hours, he posted five stories, including a feature, a computer-assisted piece and plenty of breaking news.

After being laid off in February, Gulliver said he looked around and saw that many important stories, including the watchdog and health business reports in which he had specialized, were going unreported.

“There are great stories that need to be told, that need to be written, and I thought I can still do those,” Gulliver said. “I don’t need a printing plant to do the job.”


Dave Gulliver

He may no longer depend upon the printing press, but Gulliver now relies on something else: community support.

“For now, investigative reporting and news reporting – at least on the Internet – doesn’t have the commercial viability, but there seems to be a lot of philanthropic support out there so I decided to go [the nonprofit] route,” Gulliver said. “I’m fortunate that I live in Sarasota, Fla. which is a pretty progressive community. There are a lot of people out there willing to support a venture like this.”

Sarasota Health News hews to a more traditional news format rather than a more informal, blog-like approach because that’s where Gulliver’s experience lies.

“I think you have to do something to stand out from what’s already out there,” Gulliver said. “I had to go with what my strength was and what would stand out a little bit. It’s what I was doing before, it was really well received, and there’s still an audience for it.”

Gulliver said his content would ultimately depend on what that audience was looking for, but that he would focus on general health care with a heavy focus on watchdog, investigative and explanatory work.

“People really don’t know what’s going on under the hood of health care and I think they really want to know that,” Gulliver said.

Researchers study health bloggers, form community

Last fall, a trio of researchers from the Rijeka School of Medicine in Croatia published a paper examining that peculiar class of people who may be loosely described as health bloggers. Their survey queried 197 English-language medical blogs and they included questions designed to evaluate bloggers’ Internet and blogging habits, blog characteristics, blogging motivations, and, finally, their demographics.

“Medical blogs are frequently picked up by mainstream media; thus, blogs are an important vehicle to influence medical and health policy.”

The results were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and found that “medical bloggers are highly educated and devoted blog writers, faithful to their sources and readers. Sharing practical knowledge and skills, as well as influencing the way other people think, were major motivations for blogging among our medical bloggers. Medical blogs are frequently picked up by mainstream media; thus, blogs are an important vehicle to influence medical and health policy.”

Two of the researchers also formed the Health Blogs Observatory, which they call an online community, and published a directory. Ed Silverman reached out to Ivor Kovic, an emergency physician, about the survey and their hopes for their observatory. Find out more about the project.