Core Topics

CoreTopics: Essential coverage areas for health journalists

While there are hundreds of health and health care-related topics covered in news and feature stories every day, the Association of Health Care Journalists believes there is a core set of topics that today’s health journalists need to master to cover the beat well. is home to thousands of pages of information, data and brilliant story examples. In an effort to curate this information into a curriculum from which fellow journalists can learn, we have launched a Core Topic effort using “topic champions” – lead editors – from our membership to shape this material into practical guidance in covering stories on those topics.

Specialty pages serve as launch pads for reporters starting on stories, seeking some background or wanting to keep up with the latest developments in a topic area. The pages will include glossaries, key concepts, reporting tip sheets, routine blog items, first-person stories by fellow journalists, videos, data and more.

We plan to continue adding to our core topic lineup as funding becomes available. If you are interested in specific topics being added to this curated work, please let us know. In the meantime, be aware we still have significant resources on many different topics. A simple search in the search bar above will show you what tip sheets, articles, links, contest entries and other resources we have on a given topic.


Topic leaders

Margarita Birnbaum, Topic Leader/Health Equity

Margarita Birnbaum is a Dallas-based independent journalist who has written about heart disease and stroke trends among Black, Hispanics and white adults in the U.S. In her role as AHCJ's Health Equity Core Topic Leader, Birnbaum will build upon the extensive library of resources that help journalists give readers context about the state of health equity in the U.S. A former police reporter, Birnbaum returned to journalism about six years ago to write about health disparities for American Heart Association News, the news division at American Heart. Her stories have been published by Univision, the Associated Press and WebMD, and include articles about smoking rates among Hispanic American ethnic groups, stroke care in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and COVID-19 trends in Hispanic Americans. Her work as a court interpreter and translator, and her personal and professional experiences living and working in Central America, have informed her reporting and writing.

Karen Blum, Topic Leader/Health IT

A health care and science journalist in the Baltimore area, Blum has written health IT stories for publications such as Pharmacy Practice News, Clinical Oncology News, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, General Surgery News and Infectious Disease Special Edition. An experienced freelancer for the last 17 years, she has master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, with continuing education from Johns Hopkins University. She’s served as a judge for AHCJ’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, and was a member of the conference planning committee for Health Journalism 2019.

Joseph Burns, Topic Leader/Health Reform

Burns provides resources for AHCJ members to cover the complex and changing landscape of health reform through blog posts, tip sheets, articles and links to sources. An independent journalist, Burns has been covering health care since 1991 and writes frequently about health policy and the business of health care for a variety of publications. His work has been published in The New York Times, Hospitals & Health Networks and Managed Care magazine and he has written for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Quality Forum and the National Committee for Quality Assurance. In addition, Burns has edited books on health care business strategies and served from 1991 to 1994 as the editor-in-chief of Business & Health magazine and later was a contributing editor and author of a monthly column for Managed Healthcare Executive magazine. A resident of Massachusetts, Burns began his career as a newspaper reporter in Connecticut and was a lecturer for three semesters in the Journalism Department at the University of Connecticut. (@jburns18)

Paul Gordon, Topic Leader/Environmental Health

Paul Gordon is a Chicago-based environmental journalist, photographer and conservationist. His work appears in The Nation, Grist, Sierra Magazine, Belt Magazine, Civil Eats and In These Times. Paul graduated from DePaul University with a degree in international studies. He worked as a correspondent for Clean Energy Wire in Berlin and was awarded the Congress-Bundestag Exchange Fellowship to further his education in journalism at Freie Universität. As a conservationist, Paul has field experience working for the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Fermilab. He currently works as a steward at the Morton Arboretum with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. 

Katti Gray, Topic Leader/Mental Health

A former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, Gray is providing resources to help AHCJ members expand their coverage of mental health amid ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and to place mental health care on par with all health care. She has covered, among other topics, mental health care in prisons and jails, the debate over whether mental illnesses are being over-diagnosed and efforts to persuade persons of color to be less skeptical about seeking counseling and other mental health services. Her work has been published by, among others, The Washington Post, Salon, Reuters, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Health Affairs, Essence, Colorlines, CNN, CBS News, ABC News and AARP. Her writings appear in, among other books, "The Criminalization of Mental Illness" and "Narrative Matters: Writing to Change the Health Care System." (@kattigray)

Tara Haelle, Topic Leader/Infectious Diseases & Medical Studies

Haelle guides journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enable them to translate the evidence into accurate information that their readers can grasp. Haelle is a freelance journalist and multimedia photographer who has particularly focused on medical studies over the past five years. She particularly specializes in reporting on vaccines, pediatrics, maternal health, obesity, nutrition and mental health. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post, Politico, Slate, NOVA, Wired and Science, and she writes regularly for HealthDay, Frontline Medical Communications, Forbes and her parenting science blog Red Wine & Apple Sauce. She's co-writing an evidence-based parenting book due in April 2016. (@tarahaelle)

Mary Chris Jaklevic, Topic Leader/Patient Safety

Jaklevic is a freelancer who has covered health care finance, clinical care and medical research for both expert and consumer audiences. Her interest in patient safety issues and the potential harms of medical interventions was honed by her experience as a contributor to, a project that aimed to improve health care journalism by critiquing the accuracy and balance of media messages about medical interventions.

She has contributed to various AHCJ endeavors including serving on the board from 2005 to 2009. She has a certificate in medical writing and editing from the University of Chicago Graham School and a master's in journalism from Columbia University.

Barbara Mantel, Freelance Community Correspondent

An independent, award-winning journalist based in New York, Mantel leads AHCJ’s efforts to expand its resources and services for freelance journalists, writing about issues of concern to independent journalists, such as finding assignments, running a business, ethical guidelines, negotiating contracts and much more. Mantel is a contributing writer at CQ Researcher, where she writes in-depth articles on public health and other social issues. In addition, her reporting has appeared in outlets including AARP, Rural Health Quarterly, Undark, Healthline, and NPR. (@BJMantel)

Liz Seegert, Topic Leader/Aging

Liz Seegert is a veteran independent health journalist covering aging, boomers, health policy, and social determinants of health affecting older adults. Liz is a contributing writer for PBS/; she has also written for TIME Health, American Journal of Nursing, Medscape, Consumer Reports, and Medical Economics, as well as dozens of other trade and mainstream media. Her articles have been syndicated in, the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant, the Saturday Evening Post and other major outlets. As AHCJ’s topic editor for aging, she provides journalists with story ideas, tips, resources, and best practices for reporting on aging. (@lseegert,

Kaitlin Washburn, Topic Leader/Firearm Violence and Trauma

Kaitlin Washburn is a freelance journalist based in Chicago, primarily working for the Chicago Sun-Times. She was a gun violence reporter for two years in Missouri for The Kansas City Star as a Report for America corps member. Previously, Washburn was an agriculture reporter covering the omnipresent industry in California’s Central Valley for The Sun-Gazette, also as a part of RFA. Prior to that, Washburn had internships at the Morning Call in Pennsylvania, the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. and The Oregonian in Portland. In 2019, she graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. At MU, her emphasis was in investigative reporting, and she spent three years as a researcher for Investigative Reporters and Editors. She is a San Diego native.