Health Journalism 2015: Freelance PitchFest

Friday, April 24, 1:40-3:50 p.m.

Attention independent journalists! Editors from some of the top magazines, newspapers and websites are coming to Silicon Valley 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, business cards, 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.

Get strategies to succeed: 

AHCJ webcastAHCJ hosted a webcast especially for independent journalists who are planning to take part in the Freelance PitchFest at Health Journalism 2015. Our panel of editors offered their best advice on how to make your pitch communicate a story, and impress them in the process.

We also strongly recommend watching last year's "Beyond the Basics of Pitching: Becoming That Dream Writer," a webcast with two top editors and an experienced freelancer that will help you prepare for the PitchFest.


  • 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.

  • You may sign up for THREE appointments during the advance online sign-up period (March 2-23). While at the conference, you may sign up for TWO more appointments if slots are available. If you miss the online sign-up period, you may sign up for three appointments onsite if slots are available. Onsite sign-ups will begin on Wednesday, April 22 at 3 p.m. and close on Thursday, April 23 at 4 p.m.

  • NEW THIS YEAR: If you sign up online, you will NOT be able to make a change after the online sign-up period ends. You may add two more appointments onsite but you may NOT change an existing appointment. So please take a look at the conference agenda to see if a panel you want to attend conflicts with the appointment time before you sign up.

  • 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 before the conference.

  • When you sign up, you will have the opportunity to share the URL of your website, LinkedIn profile or another page, as well as a brief bio. That information will be available to the editors.

Five Simple Rules for PitchFest Etiquette:

  1. Show up. If you fail to show up for any of your appointments, you will not be allowed to sign up in advance for next year’s PitchFest. Additionally, be aware that the booked editor will have your name, potentially harming your reputation with that publication for years to come.

  2. Prepare carefully. We've posted blurbs from editors describing what they want so read those to customize your pitch to 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.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Making appointments

Online sign-ups are open from 10 a.m. Central time, Monday, March 2 until 12 noon Central time, Monday, March 23. On-site sign-ups will begin when registration opens at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22, and will end on Thursday, April 23 at 4 p.m.

The advance online signup period has ended.


Betsy Agnvall, features editor, health, AARP Media

AARP Media serves 37 million Americans over 50 with online and print articles, as well as videos and radio programs. We frequently use freelance writers for articles covering all aspects of health. These articles tend to be reader-focused and aspirational, and are geared specifically for the 50-plus audience. We're looking for fresh, surprising takes on all kinds of health issues that affect our readers – not just diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and brain health, but also diet, fitness and overall well-being. Health articles cover the gauntlet from Medicare to drug pricing, but they all have a common theme: They address health issues of particular importance to the 50-plus audience. We have special sections of the website devoted to hearing health, brain health and caregiving. Look carefully at the site before crafting a pitch. Use our search engine as well as Google. Click around within the different tabs on health to see what's currently being promoted. We promote almost all of our print pieces online, so this will give you a good overview. Blogs are mainly covered in-house and by regular bloggers and we usually assign first-time writers online pieces before moving to print, so your best chance is to pitch an article, slideshow or quiz to run online.

Lynya Floyd, health director, Family Circle Magazine

With 18 million readers, Family Circle is one of the largest magazines in America and the only brand dedicated to moms of tweens and teens. Our writers target this demographic, speaking to the needs of our readers not only as mothers of school-aged children but also as women who tend to be in their 30s, 40s and 50s. For our health features, we're always looking for fresh angles, vibrant packaging and a voice that truly resonates with our demographic. We cover themes particular to our reader (such as "Under Pressure: How To Help Your Stressed Out Teen," "Weighty Matters: How To Talk To Your Kids About Obesity" and "What Happened To My Hair?") as well as many of the common health themes other magazines do (heart disease, diabetes, cancer), but always through the lens of our reader. We welcome everything from first-person narratives to special reports.

John Gever, deputy managing editor, MedPage Today

MedPage Today is an online medical news service with a principal target audience of physicians, celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. All our stories must absolutely, positively be crafted to appeal to practicing clinicians. They can be about new research, new products, health policy, or practice management matters. Word length in freelance pieces should generally be in the 500-950 word range. We prefer M.D./D.O. voices in stories, and the language and content should reflect the sophistication that our audience expects. Leading a story with a patient anecdote is a near-certain deal killer. What are you going to tell a doctor that he/she doesn't already know, and will want to know? That's what will most interest us in a freelance pitch.

Laura Helmuth, editor, Slate

Slate's Medical Examiner department runs articles by freelancers on almost any aspect of health and medicine. Stories with a strong argument, a surprising but well-supported conclusion, or a critique of misguided conventional (or celebrity) wisdom are particularly encouraged. Please send Laura Helmuth a short, informal email to get the conversation started at

Lottie Joiner, senior editor, The Crisis Magazine

The Crisis Magazine is the official publication of the NAACP. The quarterly journal focuses on African American social and political issues, civil rights, history, art and culture. We are looking for stories that tell us why health disparities exist in the African American community. We would like in-depth, well-reported feature stories that examine critical health issues among Black Americans. We want stories that go beyond the statistics and explore the systemic, structural and cultural causes of health disparities. It would be great to have pitches with a unique angle on a health issue or stories that have been under-reported or not widely reported by the mainstream press.

Tod Jones, managing editor, U.S., Costco Connection

The Costco Connection is a general interest, lifestyle magazine that covers topics such as small business, travel and recreation, health, fashion/clothing, electronics, books, films, automotive, home and garden. All topics must have a "Costco connection" that can be explained in a sidebar, such as a product or service that Costco offers, or the connection could be a profile of a Costco member or Costco supplier. Articles average about 700 words per page. Most article assignments are one to two pages. Pay is typically $1/word. Writers wanting to familiarize themselves with the magazine can go to and click on "current issue" at the bottom of the home page to view current and archived issues of the magazine. This will provide a good sense of content, style, article length, etc.

Becky Lang, senior editor, Discover Magazine

Discover seeks focused pitches on fresh research that's grounded in the key scientists, which would lend a story to narrative treatment, or is calling out for visual treatment, with chunks pairing up with strong photography and graphics. Our front-of-book department, The Crux, covers a broad range and seeks shorter, lively stories with their own spin forward. Our columns hit many disciplines, from environmental sciences to archaeology.

Robert Lott, deputy editor, Health Affairs

Health Affairs explores questions of health, health care, and health policy. We welcome pitches from writers interested in various sections of the journal: 1) Entry Point features are long-form news analyses on timely and often underreported topics in health policy, typically 2,000-3,000 words. 2) Health Policy Briefs are 2,500-word primers on a discrete and timely topic in health policy (such as the Sunshine Act or FDA’s role in regulating e-cigarettes) aimed at non-expert readers. 3) Narrative Matters pieces are first person essays about people’s encounters with the health care system. Health Affairs publishes both peer-reviewed academic research and journalistic content. Our goal is to serve as a high-level, nonpartisan forum to promote analysis and discussion on improving health and health care, and to address such issues as cost, quality, and access. The journal reaches a broad audience that includes government and health industry leaders; health care advocates; scholars of health, health care and health policy; and others concerned with health and health care issues in the United States and worldwide.

Anna Miller, health and wellness reporter, U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report’s Health section publishes consumer advice content on fitness, nutrition, parenting, mental health, patient care, medical conditions and more. We have a very limited budget for regular freelancers who can weed through the research and talk to experts to present information in a clear, conversational way. While we publish stories on timely topics, we also appreciate evergreen pieces that take a fresh look at common health questions. Our mission is to empower people to make better, more informed decisions about important issues affecting their lives.

Jayne O'Donnell, health care policy reporter, USA Today

USA Today takes very little freelance anymore, but if you are interested in writing for us full time or as a freelancer/stringer, it makes good sense to get to know the health editors. We only use a couple freelancers regularly on health care so it would be difficult to break in, but I remain hopeful we will be expanding our health care coverage so there could be opportunities to write for special sections or features. Health stories are now found in our print front section (though occasionally in Money both online and in print). The Money section does very occasionally do series on personal finance issues relating to health insurance so it would also be smart to become known to editors in that section if you have a business background. The two regular health writers we use started by having a story accepted on spec. We looked for expertise in the field, good sources, authoritative reporting and reader-friendly writing. If the first story was jargon-y, it was the last from that writer. After the relationship developed, we mainly assigned them stories we wanted that we knew were in their areas of expertise. We seldom used stories they came up with. The ideas we would buy on spec had to be interesting enterprise off the news and had to be turned around fast while it was still news. The writer had to be very familiar with USA Today, our style and the areas we focused on. The worst gaffe was to pitch a story that we had done recently because it was clear the person didn’t read us.

Colleen Paretty, editorial director, WebMD

WebMD Magazine’s editors seek freelance consumer health writers for articles on healthy living topics including food/nutrition, fitness, skincare/beauty, mental wellness, sleep, parenting, as well as top medical conditions (allergies, heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, etc.). Experience writing for national publications, especially women’s health titles, a plus (our publications are not the place for new writers trying to break into health writing). Excellent reporting skills, a magazine-feature style, a keen interest in health, and a smart, distinct “voice” are all desirable. We accept pitches but do much of our assigning out to writers, so your background, clips and ability to fit the magazine’s style are more important. Please read a copy of WebMD Magazine to get a feel for our style and presentation; a complete PDF of the current issue is online at and available as a free app you can download in the iTunes store or on Google Play.

Feyza Sancar, director of medical news and perspectives, Journal of the American Medical Association

JAMA, an international peer-reviewed general medical journal published weekly, is the world’s most widely circulated medical journal. The journal’s Medical News & Perspectives section covers a wide range of health care subjects, including trends in disease treatment, biomedical research, new medical technologies, health policy, and federal health agencies’ activities. Our audience is primarily clinicians but also includes policymakers, academic medical professionals, public health specialists, and health-savvy consumers. Opportunities for freelance writers include originally reported, heavily researched feature articles (up to 2,000 words) written in an engaging journalistic style and containing pertinent references to the primary medical literature. We’re open to pitches with a well-developed angle that our readers haven’t seen in other publications. We especially appreciate evergreen story ideas rather than those focused on a single, just-released study or report. Ability to suggest accompanying graphics is a plus. Medical News & Perspectives is evolving, so we are particularly looking for versatile writers with print and digital experience who know how to adapt articles for both formats. Previous experience writing news articles for broad scientific or clinical journals as well as general medical news outlets is desirable. Please provide your resume or CV with links to your writing samples.

Karl Stark, assistant managing editor, business, health and science, The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Inquirer now has an eight-page health section on Sundays, giving us more room for outside submissions. We typically want to see a good news hook, a personal health angle, lots of good evidence, an appreciation of cost and a Philly connection (not usually difficult given the region’s six medical schools, 60-plus hospitals and several hundred pharma and device firms). Proposals can run the gamut. They should answer the question “why do we care?” and include some photo ideas and whether it has been covered by us and others. Women make up nearly two-thirds of our readers so you may want to take that into account. Pharma and health reform ideas are appreciated. You need to be upfront about any conflicts of interest. Cover stories typically run from 900 to 1,100 words. Personal essays are welcome especially if you are a caregiver and there’s a Philly connection. We are very open to ideas on how we might collaborate online with freelancers, perhaps in a blog or using our database on food inspections.

Jihan Thompson, health editor, O, The Oprah Magazine

As the health editor for O, The Oprah Magazine, I'm looking for health pitches that span a wide range of topics: medical trends, nutrition stories, first-person pieces, as well as in-depth reported articles on larger healthcare issues. The mission of the magazine is to uplift and that is reflected in our health content — we want to empower our readers to live their healthiest lives, while also providing them with timely service and advice on everything from the latest cancer breakthrough to new research on how to get a good night's rest. Pitches should have a timely hook, be thoroughly researched, and offer something new that the reader hasn't read elsewhere.

Tyghe Trimble, senior editor, Men's Journal Magazine

Men’s Journal magazine and are looking for clear, reported (yes, reported) pitches that speak to science-based trends in men’s health and fitness, medical breakthroughs, and profiles.

Rabiya Tuma, general assignment editor, Medscape Medical News

Medscape is the leading medical information website, with 625,000 active physician members. Our network of experienced full-time and freelance editors and journalists provide clinically relevant, balanced, and timely reports on major advances across more than 30 medical specialties. As such, we're looking for writers who can file clear, engaging, and accurate news stories that focus on what clinicians need to know about cutting edge medicine. We seek veteran journalists with experience writing for clinicians. Those with a proven track record of high-level writing for consumers may also be considered. While we welcome pitches, most of our stories are assigned by in-house editors and have relatively short turnaround times, ranging from a few hours for breaking news to a week for news features. For the Pitchfest, please bring a CV and no more than three hard copy clips of your work. If your clips are also available online, please include URLs on your CV.

Max Ufberg, editor, Pacific Standard

A Pacific Standard writer should want to make readers think about how society ticks — how individuals, institutions, cultures, families, and the like actually behave — and about why we do the things we do. We’re interested in tying social science together with the important topics of the day to create unique and timely stories. These pieces should aim to put us among the lively conversations happening every day online and contribute to our goal of becoming a must-visit daily destination site. 

Peter Wehrwein, editor, Managed Care

Managed Care covers the underpinnings of health care—how it is organized and delivered, how is it priced, how is it paid for and by whom. Our front-row readers are medical directors at health plans, but the magazine is also read by other executives and by managers at hospitals, nursing homes, and government agencies. Freelancers write feature stories of between 1,800 and 2,400 words. We are looking for pieces that will strike readers as savvy. Strong stories about pharma and its relationship with insurers and health plans hit a sweet spot. We want inside baseball, but explained well and documented. Stories that lay out details of how insurers and providers are shaping health care and controlling costs are winners. It’s helpful if you know your way around this acronym-choked neck of the woods with its PBMs, ACOs, and CDHPs, worried PMPM and the ROI. We could fill our pages to overflowing with stories about the ACA, so pitches that are not about some aspect of ACA will stand out.