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5 from 50: Updates and Takeaways from a Year with Career GPS

5 from 50: Updates and Takeaways from a Year with Career GPS

Picture of Angilee Shah

We started Career GPS one year ago, almost to the day. At the time, the recession was in full swing and ReportingonHealth's members were clamoring for opportunities and ideas to get their careers going. This is the 50th post I've written about building careers in health media, and, if you read last week's FCC report on the state of journalism, not much has changed.

five by woodleywonderworks

This week we're looking back at the five most popular posts in the Career GPS blog, revisiting the big lessons learned and, where possible, providing some updates. If this is your first time reading the blog -- and you like what you see here -- keep up with Career GPS posts and jobs via RSS or by bookmarking the blog. Also find this week's health media job opportunities from Kristen Natvidad is yesterday's post.

What should Career GPS cover in the next 50 posts? Have questions you want answered or people you want to know more about? Share in comments or email

Now, onto the top five.

Is health a top five beat in the newsroom?

That FCC report had an interesting passage about the health beat:

"Losing journalists who cover such a specialized beat as health is significant. Reporters often spend years building up an expertise in the intricacies of medicine. They must learn how to decipher, explain, and put in context complex, confusing, and often controversial developments in treatment and cures, breakthroughs and disappointments. They need to translate medical speak into plain English. They need to be on top of developments in such areas as pharmaceuticals, clinical testing, hospital care, infectious diseases, and genetics. Theirs are not the kinds of stories that other reporters can easily produce."

But when you're a local news outfit pressed for resources and you have, say, five potential beats to choose from, does health make the cut? Since the post ran, it's received some interesting comments, including this one by Redding Searchlight Recorder general assignment reporter Ryan Sabalow: "Though health reporting is important, I don't think a small-town paper with just five beats to choose from could realistically have a full-time health reporter."

Read more about the debate, including Sabalow's top-five beats for local news.

Pitching health stories to AOL Patch

It turned out, when Patch first began, that everything was negotiable for freelancers. Since the post about pitching health stories to Patch first ran in November, however, AOL's hyperlocal news investment has taken many turns. Most recently they've announced a Groupon-like local deals service that they will run with American Express. They have hired 800 editors, which makes AOL's digital newsrooms (including the Huffington Post and other sites) bigger than The New York Times' newsroom, according to Business Insider. Business Insider also ran two anonymous interviews, one with a disgruntled Patch salesperson and another with a local editor, both of whom say the Patch model is unsustainable. But there's been some pushback in comments. Patch freelancer Afi Scruggs in Cleveland emailed Business Insider to say that writing for Patch has given her a chance to learn new skills in multimedia and has put her "out in the community constantly" and given her regular work. She adds:

"Of course, I do wish Patch would raise its rates. All freelancers wish that their clients would raise their rates. But Patch has had an effect; the major daily is looking for freelancers. Can't complain about that, can we? I don't know now long this will last, but I've been freelancing long enough to know I shouldn't put all my eggs in one basket. I appreciate what Patch has done for me. It's been a good ride, no matter how long it lasts."

Local editor David Powell writes:

"I'm a Patch editor. I'm very busy, and this is the best job I've ever had. There have been some long days, and some hard days, but I don't feel 'worked to death.' Out of all the other editors I know, I only know a small handful who might say otherwise. I think the editorial staff's morale is at least okay, if not actually pretty good. I can also say that good internal measures have been taken to give staffers an outlet for candidly airing concerns and comparing notes."

Have you written or worked for Patch? Let us know about your experience in comments, or email

Cover Your Assets

Lawyer David Ardia, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and director of the indispensible Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) gave great advice to journalists about protecting themselves and their assets from lawsuits. The big takeaway? Don't be afraid, but be prepared. Ardia likened reporting to owning a car: even if you drive almost every day without getting into an accident, if it does happen, you'll be glad you were ready.

Sleeping Online, and a Social Media Journalist's Ideas about the Internet

Paul Balcerak, then assistant editor in the new media division of community newspaper publisher Sound Publishing, participated in a social media experiment in which a video of him sleeping was streamed live over the Internet. He talked to Career GPS about what he learned about social media and the new ways journalists might think about how they report stories. There's a lot of food for thought in the post, but here's one nugget:

"Making experts available to the general public for an open question-and-answer session is always a good idea. I honestly wouldn't have thought sleep apnea would be that popular a topic, but we had tens of thousands of people logging into the web chat and livestream to learn. That's crazy. Imagine how many people would love to learn about, say, America's budget woes from a Congressional budget expert. People who can communicate succinctly and effectively to the public -- and that should include journalists, too -- by answering questions on the fly are a huge resource."

Getting the Job: What a startup journalist looks for in new hires

Chris Seper, president and co-founder of MedCity News, spoke candidly in January about what it takes to get hired by a news startup. He discussed salaries, résumés and his vetting process, and explained that it is very important for his hires to be able to handle adversity, teamwork and going solo:

"Someone who is startup ready, at least for MedCity News, has an internal motivation, is organized and can work independently. It's someone who is trustworthy and embraces being part of a team. On my last reporting hire I spent a lot of time talking to references and others about the reporter's ability to work alone, to create their own ideas, how the reporter conducted himself in kind of isolating moments (when he had a bad editor who didn't provide guidance, did he still thrive?). We need risk-takers who will be used to working out of a newsroom and in the corner of an incubator or less formal settings."

Seper updated Career GPS with this exciting news: "MedCity is still hiring. We're literally posting our opening for our next market -- Philadelphia -- in the next 24 hours or so. And we have plans to get into two additional markets as fast as our revenue and funding will carry us. So including those three reporter positions, there will likely be an opening for a full-time editor at some point."


What do you want read about in the next 50 posts? Share in comments.

(Photo: "five" by woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons.)

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