Healthy Journalism

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Excited in Seattle

Last week at this time, I was at the Association of Health Care Journalists annual conference in Seattle. Professional meetings like this always generate great moments – provocative workshops, reunions with old friends, and the chance to rub shoulders with brilliant actors (Sarah Jones) and members of the U.S. Senate (Ron Wyden).

But one of my favorite moments happened around seven p.m. on Friday evening, in the elevator at the Grand Hyatt. A woman I didn’t recognize peered at my nametag, lit up, and said “Wow. You’re from the University of Georgia. I met some of your students and they had great ideas!”

She turned out to be Meredith Matthews, senior editor of Current Health 1 and Current Health 2, teen magazines that are part of the Weekly Reader empire. Meredith had just spent three hours at Freelance PitchFest, a form of journalistic speed dating that’s very popular at AHCJ’s national meeting. Panels of hopefuls sign up to meet national editors for for short, one-on-one discussions of stories they hope to write. When editors hear a good one,they snap it up.

Grady graduate students Christy Fricks, Marona Graham-Bailey and Jordan Sarver all placed stories at PitchFest.

Except for maybe the University of Washington, which had the home-field advantage, UGA had more students registered for the conference than any other school. Judging by the number of comments I received from friends and strangers, this really helped put our new MA Concentration in Health and Medical Journalism on the map.

Christy, Marona and Jordan, along with Brian Creech and James Hataway, seemed to be everywhere. UGA students networked, pitched and tweeted along with 400 health and medical journalists from the U.S. and other countries. They participated in workshops covering dozens of topics including investigative reporting, health care reform, vaccine safety, health literacy, biology of aging, veterans’ health and more. The students are writing about all this on www.gradyjournal.com and http://deepsouthhealth.blogspot.com

At the lavish opening reception, Brian and James picked up resume writing tips from Peggy Girshman, who has reviewed thousands of resumes since November, when she became executive editor of Kaiser Health News. This Washington-based, online start up is expected to dominate health policy coverage once it’s fully staffed. (Note: if you want Peggy’s do’s and don’ts, I have them).

Crossing to the other side of the room, past the sashimi and slider bars, UGA students renewed their acquaintance with SciAm Online editor Ivan Oransky. They had met on April Fool’s Day, when Ivan was a guest speaker in our health and medical journalism class. The idea of going to a Mariner’s game was probably hatched during the opening soiree – I’m not sure. (But I do know the Mariner’s defeated the Detroit Tigers the next night at Safeco Field.)

We had talked with AHCJ online editor Pia Christensen months ago, and signed up for the Twitter team at #AHCJ09. Nearly 1,000 tweets were posted during the conference, including some of mine. This adds a whole new dimension to a meeting with concurrent sessions, where you wish you could be in two rooms at once. On Saturday morning I was tweeting a session on social and environmental determinants of health AND tapping into Christy’s notes from a session about covering medical studies.

The conference is still making waves in the Twittersphere. Enter #AHCJ09 at http://search.twitter.com and you’ll find participants still talking among themselves about the Gordian knot of politics, money, health and healthcare. Thanks to the AHCJ program planners and to Len Bruzzese and the excellent staff for kicking off these conversations.

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