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Health Journalism 2011: Freelance PitchFest

Health Journalism 2011
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Friday, April 15, 3-6 p.m.

The online sign-up period has ended, but we have reserved many appointments for on-site signups. You can sign up for appointments beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, April 15, at the conference registration desk.

Attention AHCJ Freelance Writers! Editors from some of the top magazines, newspapers, Web sites are coming to Philadelphia 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.

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.

IMPORTANT:

  • You must be a professional journalist, an AHCJ member and already registered for the conference (hurry – registration closes at noon, Monday, April 4) 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 FOUR appointments now and an additional TWO appointments on the day of the PitchFest – if they are available. If you wait to sign up for appointments on the day of the PitchFest, you will be able to sign up for THREE appointments – if they are available.

  • We will start taking on-site signups for the PitchFest at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, April 15, at the conference registration desk.

  • 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.


David Corcoran, assistant science editor, The New York Times

Opportunities for new freelancers are quite limited. We do look at articles and essays on spec, and we make very occasional assignments for news features that catch our eye. The article should be newsy and timely. Articles generally run 700 to 1,500 words. The pitch or cover letter should indicate whether the news has already been reported; a yes answer does not necessarily mean we're not interested, but we need to know what kind of exposure the story has had.

Linda Dahlstrom, senior health editor, msnbc.com

Msnbc.com and TODAY.com are looking for health freelancers who can quickly write engaging articles for us on new medical studies and breaking news events, as well as surprising "talker" stories about the human condition. We are also seeking writers who can contribute short pieces to our popular and irreverent blog The Body Odd, which focuses on our wonderfully weird bodies and medical oddities. We also are seeking contributors to our TODAY Moms parenting blog. We are interested in smart writers with surprising ideas and a familiarity with interpreting medical findings.

Daniel DeNoon, senior medical writer, WebMD Online

WebMD tends to assign news, feature, and reference articles. We accept relatively few pitches. The general qualities we look for in a writer are:

  1. Availability to take assignments on relatively short notice, with relatively short turnaround.
  2. Familiarity with WebMD style
  3. Familiarity with writing for the internet, including SEO 4. A compelling narrative style

During the 2011 PitchFest, I'll be particularly interested in:

  1. News writers able to write accurate and appealing news briefs (300-500 words) based on journal articles, often with same-day turnaround
  2. News reporters based in the Washington DC area.

Deborah Flapan, director, Medscape Medical News, Medscape from WebMD

Medscape Medical News is the independent news unit within Medscape from WebMD. Its expansive network of experienced full-time and freelance editors and journalists provides clinically relevant, accurate, balanced, and timely reports on major advances across more than 30 medical specialties.

We seek veteran medical writers with experience writing for clinicians (Medscape's primary audience). Those with a proven track record of high-level writing for consumers may also be considered. Deadlines can range from same day to a few days, so we're looking for writers who are comfortable with a quick turnaround, can write in a variety of medical specialties, and can research a topic and/or conduct extra interviews if needed to provide the clinical context and perspective that is a cornerstone of our news coverage. 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, include URLs on your CV.

Nicole Nader Gabor, senior editor, KidsHealth.org

KidsHealth.org is the most-visited website for children's health and development. KidsHealth.org has been honored as one of the 30 Best Websites by U.S. News & World Report, one of the 50 Coolest Websites by TIME magazine, and the Best Family Health Site "For Moms" by Good Housekeeping.
We're looking for freelancers who can pitch to us, and also write articles we assign.

KidsHealth (Parents): We always need straightforward (but fun to read!) medical articles on common pediatric conditions. Take a look at our library of articles and see if you find a gap in content: www.kidshealth.org/parents
We are also looking for savvy feature writers who aren't afraid of medical terminology and have a particular interest in pregnancy, parenting young children, and early childhood development.

KidsHealth (Teens): Looking for writers with experience presenting medical and behavioral health issues for teens (target audience is age 14 ).

KidsHealth (Kids): Personal stories about kids ages 8 to 13 living (and thriving) with a health problem or emotional struggle (i.e. being bullied). Stories about child celebrities a plus, see here: http://kidshealth.org/kid/diabetes_basics/what/nick_madi.html

KidsHealth in the Classroom: Looking for experienced writers to draft health-related lesson plans for grades K-8. Educators/former educators preferred. Visit http://classroom.kidshealth.org to view lesson plans.

Peggy Girshman, editor, 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, etc. 

Christine Gorman, health and medicine editor, Scientific American; also representing Scientific American Mind

Scientific American is a monthly magazine that publishes in-depth articles about basic scientific research for a high-income, typically college-educated general audience. Our subscribers are typically not scientists themselves-think bankers and insurance agents-so we look for an engaging writing style that contains little or no jargon. After a wide-ranging redesign in October of 2010, the magazine now looks to offer content that is 50% written by scientists and 50% written by journalists. As the health and medicine editor, I am actively looking for good writers for two different types of pieces: 1) 1500-word "Science of Health" articles that explore the science behind an emerging consensus or an instructive controversy in the health/medical field and 2) 2500-3000 word feature articles that offer a well-developed angle on basic scientific research in chronic and infectious diseases, environmental health, food safety, genetics, global health, human biology (particularly immunology and neuroscience), mental health and synthetic biology.  The most successful journalist-written pieces focus on new trends in research with reporting about several labs or scientists as opposed to focusing on a single scientist or lab (we would invite the scientist to write about her/his own work). Lead time (from assignment to deadline) is typically one to three months.

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.

Kathy LaTour, editor at large, CURE Magazine

CURE brings to those with cancer and their caregivers the latest cancer updates, research and education. Our approach is to provide scientifically based information for the lay reader. This requires some special care be taken on the part of our writers in accuracy and tone. Our audience is struggling with a devastating disease that includes myriad drugs and prognoses. We want to provide them information and hope while being careful not to make medical claims that may make their own journey more difficult. Our mission requires asking for some assurances that we hope you will find acceptable.

We also want all our information to include the human voice of patients. Therefore, please approach all writing as featurized. We use quotes and the voices of not only physicians, but also real people. Accuracy is critical. We ask that you find survivors to interview and incorporate their comments where appropriate.

  1. Queries should be no longer than one page and give the hook of the story, background on what makes it cancer news, and recommendations for interviews.
  2. Writers should have working knowledge of cancer, its treatments and processes.
  3. Writers will be expected to interview physicians, who may make statements that, in context, are confusing or present information inaccurately. It is expected that you will footnote all medical, statistical or other material in the document to a bibliography at the end of the article. Do not rely on medical data given to you by a doctor. You must verify all statistics, trial data, etc. given to you with a documented source.
  4. Writers should be careful to balance any claims of drug or treatment efficacy by citing studies and conflicting research, if any.
  5. Please identify all physicians and their affiliate institution fully.
  6. We use a modified AP style. Please use present tense for attribution.
  7. Please find patients who have not been interviewed before.

Brendan Maher, features editor, Nature

Though you may not know it, Nature, one of the leading scientific journals, also has a news section. In addition to daily and weekly news and opinion, Nature publishes several lengthy news features (>2000 words) each week. News features aim to offer hard hitting science journalism on the inner workings of the research world. These are written with our ‘core' audience in mind, namely working researchers, but often have broader impact with policy makers and the lay public. News features are meant to be ambitious, investigative, exploratory, and or narrative in structure, chronicling the lives of scientists or the ways in which science interfaces with and influences the world we live in.

Anna Maltby, associate editor, health, Self

I edit the FOB pages for the Health department at Self. When I say "Health," I do mean health – not nutrition, not fitness, not psychology, all of which are separate departments at SELF. Here, the Health umbrella covers lots of different topics: heart disease, cancer, conditions, allergies, sexual health (though not "coupley" issues, which fall closer to our psychology department), germs, hormones, sleep and many more. The pitches I'm looking for are fun, short (less than two pages), easy-to-digest, visual concepts for presenting health information in a way that's encouraging and informative but not overly scary or doom-and-gloom. 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!"

Amanda Moon, senior editor, Scientific American Books, FSG

Amanda Moon is an acquisitions editor interested in non-fiction and narrative non-fiction book proposals in all areas of science, health, psychology, and related fields.

Peter Moore, editor, Men's Health Magazine

Moore lives to be surprised by story ideas that helpfully redefine men's roles in the office, in the gym, on playing fields, at home, on a date, or in bed; by profiles of essential guys he's never heard of; and by health crises/frauds/delusions he didn't know he was suffering from. Or else, he just wants to laugh. Is that too much to ask?

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

Arthritis Today is the award-winning bimonthly consumer health magazine published by the Arthritis Foundation. It has a circulation of 715,000, and reaches approximately 4 million people per issue.
We work with freelance writers and editors on assignments for magazines, newsletters, our family of websites, special project microsites and more. We are increasingly working with freelancers on cross-platform and in-depth projects, which have multiple content components.  We are looking for health and service journalists and general writers who can deliver the following:

  • health and medical news, from new drug approvals, research studies, medical meetings, CDC reports, Congressional or FDA hearings and more;
  • features and short articles on topics, from arthritis-specific and general health, research, issues and trends, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, relationship, psychological and coping issues, navigating the health care system and more.

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 field of rheumatology, immunology and orthopaedics; can work with expert researchers and physicians to convey complex information; are committed to thorough, accurate and quality work; and prefer a collaborative, rather than transactional relationship with your editor. Check out ArthritisToday.org.

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

What Reuters Health is looking for from freelancers: It's rare for us to accept pitches, because of the way we're set up, so what I'm looking for at PitchFest is to meet freelancers who may want to join our regular stable. Most valuable is experience writing critically about medical studies, for a professional (health care provider) audience as well as for a consumer audience.

Luba Ostashevsky, editor, Macmillan Science

MacMillan Science publishes books aimed at the general educated reader. We are interested in acquiring books that instill in the reader a sense of wonder and amazement about the natural world, and give them the context to understand their own. Our reach is broad: from what attracts us to a romantic partner to how we parent; from what it takes to save our planet from global warming to the chemistry of the food we put into our bodies; from stem cell research to the science of our mental health. In a pitch session, be prepared to talk out your book idea, the work you've done on the topic so far, and what makes you the right person to write about what you have in mind.

Colleen Paretty, executive editor, WebMD

WebMD the Magazine, America's healthy living magazine, is a national consumer health publication distributed to doctors' office waiting rooms, so our audience is all America, though our core reader is a woman in her 30s and 40s, with a family, a career, a busy lifestyle, and an active interest in her family's health as well as her own. Most of the magazine's articles are written by freelancers, and we look for experienced consumer health writers with magazine feature-writing experience (preferably for national publications and top health websites), a solid health reporting background, and an assured, lively, smart writing style (we appreciate style and voice). Topics we often assign to freelancers include food/nutrition, fitness, healthy balance and mental wellness, sleep, sex, parenting, and beauty/skincare, as well as top health conditions (allergies, heart health, diabetes, chronic pain, depression, etc.). Please read the magazine either in print or online at www.WebMD.com/magazine to get a better idea of our content style.

Susan Raihofer, literary agent, David Black Literary Agency

What I'm looking for in a verbal book pitch: title, subtitle, brief description of the book's thesis. Why is this an idea that would appeal to a large readership?  What's the hook? Also, it's critical to know what the writer's platform is - what are their credentials? Do they have a wide readership now? What cross-promotional marketing opportunities do they have? I'm looking for quality writing, a high concept, an idea with a commercial hook and writers with strong platforms.

Chris Seper, president and co-founder, MedCity Media

MedCity Media creates content for people who care about healthcare, and we're regularly adding freelancers with specific healthcare expertise to a list we regularly use to complete a wide array of healthcare content work.

MedCity Media has a Web site (MedCityNews.com) and news service that writes about business news and more from key medical cities. But we use use freelancers mostly in our content services division where we create made-to-order health content for any publisher. We're ghostwriting blogs for major hospitals, managing health and wellness publications for mainstream media outlets, and doing social media for medical startups, among many other things.

Our current highest-demand expertise is around stem cell research, wellness, pediatrics, ophthalmology and healthcare social media. But our needs change regularly depending on the demands of our customers.