Health Journalism 2012: Freelance PitchFest

Health Journalism 2012

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Friday, April 20, 1:20-5 p.m.

Attention AHCJ Freelance Writers! Editors from some of the top magazines, newspapers and websites are coming to Atlanta to meet you! Bring your best ideas to the AHCJ Freelance PitchFest. This session has been created to give you an opportunity to sit down and discuss your ideas one-on-one with editors from selected publications.

To participate, you will sign up for time with the editors and come prepared to sell your work. That means you need to arrive with specific pitches for the editors, as well as clips, resume, etc. We have provided information below about what each editor is looking for, so please use that to your advantage. Do not show up with just a business card to hand out.


  • You must be a professional journalist, an AHCJ member and already registered for the conference to sign up for PitchFest appointments. AHCJ reserves the right to cancel appointments of anyone who is not qualified.
  • Each appointment is for seven minutes.

  • The pre-conference signups have ended. We will start taking on-site signups for the PitchFest at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, at the conference registration desk. At that time, you will be able to sign up for THREE appointments – if they are available.

  • You may only sign up for one appointment for each editor and your selections are not final until you receive a confirmation from AHCJ the week of the conference.

Four Simple Rules for PitchFest Etiquette:

  1. Prepare carefully. We've posted blurbs from editors describing what they want so read those to find out what each editor wants. For example, news editors won't want to hear a pitch for a feature. Study the publication to make certain your pitch is a good fit.

  2. Arrive in plenty of time. We will run on time and we will run like clockwork. If you are late, you forfeit your pitch.

  3. Respect the time limit. When you hear the one-minute warning, start to wrap up. When you hear time called, please get up, thank the editor and say you'll follow up with an email.

  4. Understand the limits. Please recognize that attending PitchFest does not guarantee you a sale. It does guarantee you an opportunity to pitch face-to-face to editors who are extremely difficult to access, even by email.

Valarie Basheda, director of editorial content, WebMD

Basheda is looking for someone who has a passion for writing health content in clear, conversational language. Health information can often seem confusing and contradictory, and our goal is to provide readers the information and context they need to understand why it matters.

Mary Carter, senior editor/health, WebMD

WebMD is looking for experienced health and medical journalists to report slideshows and rich media quizzes. We're looking for a friendly, helpful tone focused on the consumer and a reflection of real-life issues. If you're interested in writing bright, tight (450 characters!), fully sourced, medically sound text on topics from allergies to “How to Get a Six-Pack” to “Which Infertility Treatment is Right for You?,” come see me.

David Corcoran, editor, Science Times

Unfortunately, opportunities for new freelancers are quite limited. Most material in the section comes from staff writers or regular contributors. 

We do look at articles and essays on spec, and we make very occasional assignments for news features that catch our eye. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

• The article should be newsy and timely. It should tell readers something they don’t already know, and within the first few paragraphs it should answer the question “Why are you telling me this now?”

• Topics can range widely over science and health, but bear in mind that important news developments, including major findings reported in science and medical journals, are likely to be covered by our staff writers. The best outside articles are those that make a reader (in this case an editor) sit up and take notice, by calling attention to a surprising or underreported development or trend.

• Articles generally run 500 to 1,500 words. Science Times pays $1 a word on publication. Queries or pitches should run no more than 300 words.

• The pitch or cover letter should indicate whether the news has already been reported — in The Times, the mainstream press (including Web sites, TV and radio) or scientific journals. A yes answer does not necessarily mean we’re not interested, but we need to know what kind of exposure the story has had.

 • Queries and finished articles on medicine and health should be sent by e-mail to Mike Mason at On other science topics, to David Corcoran at

• We also look at personal essays, on spec only, for the Health page feature Cases. These are first-person articles of 800 words or so about an encounter with the medical system. Many examples can be found online.

Peter Dykstra, publisher, Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate

Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate welcome freelance story pitches on the impacts on human health from environmental exposures and climate change. If it's helpful for freelancers, here's a direct link to the original freelance content we've published recently. It's the best way for potential pitchers to get an idea of what we like. EHN is probably the stronger possibility for a successful pitch from AHCJ writers.

John Fairhall, editor in chief, Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news site which partners with major news organizations. We’re looking for freelance pitches stories with strong narratives about health policy and politics, including implementation of the health law on the federal and state level, Medicare, Medicaid, the uninsured, the insurance and health care industries, the delivery of care, comparative effectiveness, health disparities. While we are interested in stories with a consumer angle, we don’t have strictly medical stories, new treatments or studies.

Denise Fulton, executive editor, IMNG Medical Media

IMNG Medical Media provides medical news coverage tailored to the needs and interests of practicing physicians across 18 specialties. We strives to provide news that is fair, balanced and accurate. We adhere to policies of fact verification and disclosures of interest by sources quoted in our articles. To meet the news needs of our physician readers, we want to work with freelance health journalists on a range of products. Our editorial strength – our bread and butter – is reporting news from medical research meetings around the globe. But we also seek freelancers to cover breaking news developments out of federal agencies, to report in-depth features tailored to specific medical specialists, to write news stories based on published medical research, and to provide coverage for show daily newspapers at medical meetings. To gain a better understanding our editorial operations, please visit or; click on the digital edition in the upper right corner of the home page to view our print publications. To learn more about our group, please visit

Peggy Girshman, executive editor, Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news site which partners with major news organizations, including The Washington Post, USA Today,McClatchy Newspapers, NPR, MSNBC and some magazines. We’re looking for freelance stories with strong narratives about health policy and politics, including implementation of the health law on the federal and state level, Medicare, Medicaid, the uninsured, the insurance and health care industries, the delivery of care, comparative effectiveness, health disparities. While we are interested in stories with a consumer angle, we don’t publish strictly medical stories, new treatments, etc

Christine Gorman, senior editor, Scientific American; representing the web site and magazine as well as Scientific American Mind

Scientific American is a monthly magazine, website, blog network and growing online community. We print long-form features (2500-3500 words) and some shorter news pieces (500 to 800 words) in the print edition about basic scientific research for a high-income, typically college-educated general audience. Magazine subscribers are typically not scientists themselves--think bankers, engineers and insurance agents--but they like more depth on scientific topics than they can get from newsmagazines or newspapers. As a result, we look for an intelligent and engaging writing style that contains little or no jargon. Tablet and e-reader applications are on tap for later in 2012. Lead time is typically four months or longer. 

The audience for the website is quite distinct from the magazine audience, although there is some overlap. Stories tend to run about 800 to 1000 words but can be longer. Articles are more directly tied to the news cycle, with a premium on fast turnarounds and direct, meaty language with the occasional salacious piece on drunken or sex-starved fruit flies. Lead time runs from 24 hours to two weeks. 

Scientific American Mind was launched in late 2004 as a quarterly and is now a bi-monthly magazine that seeks to feature surprising things about why people behave the way they do. It is specifically geared toward issues that touch readers personally and specializes in behavior, perception, the central-nervous-system and mental health issues. Its editors are actively looking to develop new freelance writers, particularly for narrative-driven stories. Feature articles run 2700-3200 words; shorter Perspective articles run 900-1000 words.  Lead time (from assignment to deadline) is three weeks to three months.

Lena Huang, editorial director, CURE Magazine

Cancer is a complex disease both scientifically and personally. Our approach is to provide scientifically based information for the lay reader. This requires special care taken by our writers in accuracy and tone. Our audience is struggling with a devastating disease. We want to provide them information and hope while being careful not to make medical claims that can make their own journey more difficult.

All writers must have medical writing, preferably cancer-related, and interviewing experience. We accept queries, but no unsolicited manuscripts. Please include enough detail in queries to demonstrate that you have resources for the science behind every story. Send all queries to Pay is approximately $1/word with a 50% kill fee for the magazine and $0.50/word for web-exclusive content. Payment is made on acceptance and all work for CURE must be original. In addition, you must be willing to sell CURE all rights to your work.

Richard Kirkner, editor-In-Chief, Optometry Times, Advanstar Communications

Advanstar Medical Communications is seeking experienced health-care writers to cover medical conferences in major markets around the country – specifically New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Boston and Washington, D.C. The work involves covering several sessions each day during the conference and then filing 500-1000-word articles, post-speaker review and with relevant images and graphics, over the two weeks following the meeting. Editors provide writers with a list of sessions to cover. Among the Advanstar titles seeking writers are Urology Times, Dermatology Times, Cosmetic Surgery Times, Optometry Times and Ophthalmology Times.

Brendan Maher, feature editor, Nature

Nature is looking for writers who want to tell BIG stories about research, researchers and the people, places and things that they affect and interact with. Nature's news features are timely, authoritative, impactful, compelling stories reported and written by journalists, about and for the research community. We welcome well thought-out pitches as well as preliminary ideas.

Anna Maltby, associate health editor, Self

I'm seeking fun, short (less than two pages), easy-to-digest, visual concepts for presenting health information that's encouraging and informative, possibly a little bit alarming, but not overly doom-and-gloom.

Health at Self is decidedly NOT fitness, nutrition or psychology, all of which are separate departments. Here, the Health umbrella covers lots of different topics: heart disease, cancer, conditions, allergies, sexual health, germs, hormones, sleep and many more. Our research requirements are rigid – you must be able to find and read studies (full texts, not abstracts!) and interview their authors, you must be able to determine the best doctors and researchers to interview, and you must be game to compile an incredibly organized, thorough backup file.

Backing your pitch up with examples of previous health and service writing is a must, as our brand of reporting and writing takes skill and experience – I want to know that you have both the great idea and the chops to make it happen. Finally, keep in mind that Self readers are pretty healthy already and are fairly well versed in most basic health info: Bring me something that will surprise them and/or solve a health query they've always wondered about, and make them want to tell their friends, "Guess what I read in Self today!"

Marcy O'Koon Moss, editor in chief, Arthritis Today

The Arthritis Foundation relies on freelancers for a number of our publications and content platforms. Arthritis Today is our award-winning bimonthly consumer health magazine (715,00 circulation, more than 4 million readers per issue). While it is our flagship magazine, it provides just one of many opportunities. 

We work with freelance reporters, writers and editors on assignments for multiple magazines, newsletters, web sites, special project micro sites, patient education materials and more. We are increasingly working with freelancers on cross-platform and in-depth projects, which have multiple content components, and look for assignment writers, as well as those who can generate ideas, develop concepts and provide project and content management. 

Examples of the work available: 

  • Reporting, both short-turnaround news and long-term assignments, on health and medical topics, from new drug approvals, research studies and their relevance to current treatment or future advances, medical meetings and health care policy (for example, coverage of CDC and IOM reports, FDA actions and its committees)

  • Features and short articles on topics, such as health, treatment issues and trends, access to health care, legal rights and sources of support, as well as self-management, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, relationship, psychological and coping issues

  • Patient education, such as introductory content (e.g., for brochures or slide presentations) and in-depth, explanatory pieces that connect background to current best practices and state of knowledge on a wide range of topics

  • More than writing – we have need for publication/topic editors, line editors, copyeditors, researchers and project managers. 

Because we have a diverse range of work, we welcome freelancers with a range of skills and experience. You might be a good fit for us, if you believe that really strong, insightful and relevant health information is empowering; understand and have a passion for communicating the exciting medical and research progress in the fields of rheumatology, immunology and orthopaedics; can work with expert researchers and physicians to convey complex information to lay readers; are committed to thorough, accurate and quality work; and prefer a collaborative, rather than transactional, relationship with your editor. 

Ivan Oransky, M.D., executive editor, Reuters Health

Although Reuters Health very occasionally takes pitches, we participate in PitchFest to meet new potential freelancers for our regular coverage of clinical studies. The best way to join our stable of contributors is to bring clips to PitchFest that are similar to the stories you see us running at Reuters Health – skeptical, context-filled pieces that demonstrate an understanding of the criteria.

Colleen Paretty, executive editor, WebMD Magazine

WebMD the Magazine’s editors seek freelance consumer health writers with extensive experience writing articles for national publications (especially women’s health titles) on healthy living topics including food/nutrition, fitness, skincare/beauty, mental health, sleep, parenting, as well as top medical conditions (allergies, heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, etc.). Excellent reporting skills, a magazine-feature style, a keen interest in health, and a smart tone and “voice” are musts. Please read a copy of WebMD the Magazine to get a feel for our style and presentation.

Joy Taylor, editor,

I’m looking for writers who can address healthcare workforce issues and careers in healthcare. Our audience is primarily nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharm workers, allied health, rehab therapy. We speak to the unemployed (new grads and experienced workers seeking job change) and also to employed healthcare workers who are looking for information on how to advance their career (certifications, specialties, CEUs, etc). Also, I plan to run more articles that address how healthcare reform is affecting specific careers. Articles run about 400 words, and pay runs about .50 per word.