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Get to Know the Business of Health Journalism

Get to Know the Business of Health Journalism

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Rick Edmonds is a media business analyst who writes the Biz Blog at Poynter Online. In Poynter's "100 Ideas to Make Your Journalism Better" webinar last week, Edmonds said journalists need to know what is happening in the business of journalism. While times are going to get leaner as we move ahead, there are still good areas of opportunity in news media, he said. Demand for digital and mobile content is on the rise, as is federal and business coverage.

This week at Career GPS, I ask Edmonds about the business of health journalism. Where are we headed and how can we can be prepared? The week's health media jobs and fellowships are at the end of this post. Keep up with Career GPS via RSS.

The Q&A below is edited for length and clarity.

Rick Edmonds/Poynter

Where do you place health journalism in terms of the business of journalism?

The overall field of science in health journalism has declined a lot. A lot of papers have decided for many reasons -- they don't have enough space, they're trying to trim their staff -- that they're not going to do much on pure science research. That will be handled, to the extent it's handled at all, by higher education reporters or something like that.

Health is a different story. I think health, along with environment, are high priority topics. It's become more of a mix of self-help, fitness -- those kinds of topics -- whereas ten or fifteen years ago, it was more about calling up experts and getting their opinions.

You see a boom in consumer health news?

Consumer health, exactly.

A second trend is that the job mix is switching quite a bit. There are pretty strong opportunities in health communications if you work for a university or hospital, in some instances a drug company. That goes with caveats: Can you do that and do good work? Or is that like selling out?

There are a range of answers depending on the person you're working for. If you take it from the perspectives of hospitals or university departments, their sense is that they can't count on a lot of coverage from newspapers. Local television, the networks and cable stations are cutting back. It's a kind of do-it-yourself thing. They're producing a lot of the news about health themselves. So that, I think, is a pretty good area of opportunity, though that may or may not be what a person who likes health journalism is aiming for.

Do you think this it is an error for someone who wants to be a journalist -- especially in a recession -- to work in communications, even if it's quality work?

I think that's much less true that it is an error than it used to be. If you compare it to the traditional career path, the work is somewhat less valued when you show your clips to a mainstream employer. But I don't think it's disqualifying. I go back long enough that we used to talk about anything in corporate communications as going over to the dark side, but I think that's kind of shifted these days.

What about nonprofit-supported institutions? Do you think those offer sustainable careers  for journalists?

I agree with you that they are growing or are at least relatively healthy compared to general interest newspapers. I have a little bit of a caveat on the nonprofits: It's a terrific development that there are so many of them and a lot of them are doing terrific work. Many of them will be sustainable. But the sustainability of nonprofits, to some extent, is in as much doubt as newspapers recovering. It is relatively easy to attract start-up funding, but foundations in general and most philanthropists -- not all -- are less willing to cover operating losses in later years. I think there will probably be some winnowing out of those before too long.

Jan Schaffer, from J-Lab at American University, has done a lot of studies of nonprofit blogs in general. To some extent, they're really sustained by the enthusiasm of the person who does it. It may never really be a paying gig. The earnings may be something but not really enough to be a full-time job.

What about news startups? Are those good places for journalists to look for jobs and think about their careers in the long-term?

They're perfectly good places to break in. Or if you've had a more traditional job and are trying to develop a range of activities to support yourself, it's fine. But the idea that you can really count on that sector being here in a much bigger way five years from now -- that I don't think is the case.

Keeping up with the business means that maybe you're going to tailor your expertise or experience to something that looks like it's going to grow over time. What do you see on the horizon?

If you were somebody trying to make a career where there's going to be demand in a few years, you might want to get to be really good at mobile. All the forecasts are that mobile is going to grow in a huge way and much more news consumption will be there. If you got in right now when there's not huge amounts of money flowing and you might have to take a job with a startup that is may or may not make it, that would be a calculation for your career.

What do you suggest health journalists read and follow to make themselves smarter as they make decisions about their careers?

I do think devoting at least some time to reading about the business -- I wouldn't expect most people to be interested in all the twists and turns I try to follow -- creates a useful base of knowledge because it is tricky terrain. They can read things like my blog, or Nieman Journalism Lab, the good roundups on and Romenesko.

How do you keep up with the business of health journalism? Share your favorite tips and links in comments.

Health Media Opportunities

New Job and Internship Listings

Assistant Editor of Newsletters and Syndication, Men's Health
Location: Emmaus, PA
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine, Online

Health Care Reporter, Bloomberg News (via JournalismJobs)
Location: San Francisco, CA
Status: Full Time
Medium: Wires

Health Care Reporter, Bloomberg News (via JournalismJobs)
Location: San Francisco, CA
Status: Full Time
Medium: Wires

Medical Writer, Chattanooga Times Free Press (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Chattanooga, TN
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newspaper

Medical/Science Writer, Life Extension
Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Status: Freelance
Medium: Magazine

Reporter, health and medical news, features, The Villages Daily Sun
Location: The Villages, FL
Status: Full Time
Medium: Community Newspaper

Senior Writer/Editor, Columbia University Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology (via HERC)
Location: New York, NY
Status: Part Time
Medium: Communications/Academia

Writer/Editor, Health Magazine
Location: New York, NY
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine

Writer/Editor, The Partnership at (via mediabistro, free registration required)
Location: Telecommute
Status: Freelance
Medium: Nonprofit News

Fellowships and Grants

Rosalynn Carter Fellowships For Mental Health Journalism
Eligibility: Open to journalists with at least three years of experience and citizenship from United States, Romania or South Africa
Included: $10,000 stipends to report on mental health issues, mentorship to complete reporting project
Deadline: Apr. 18, 2011
From the Website: "Fellowships are tailored to suit the needs, interests, and experiences of each fellow. They also generate knowledge and information to benefit the mental health field and the public. When appropriate, the program requests that fellows conduct one training session related to mental health and journalism for their peers during the fellowship year."

National Health Journalism Fellowship, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists from print, broadcast, and online media, including freelancers. Applicants need not be full time health reporters, but they need to have a passion for health news (broadly defined).
Included: All-expenses paid six-day program in Los Angeles, $200 stipend and upon completion of what are expected to be ambitious, major fellowship projects.
Deadline: May 2, 2011
From the Website: "To stimulate collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media, we encourage applicants to propose a joint project for use by both media outlets. Up to two collaborators for each project may receive a stipend."

Dennis A. Hunt Health Journalism Grants, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to all journalist members of Center for Health Journalism Digital. Print, broadcast and new media journalists from anywhere in the United States are eligible to apply, as are all past fellows of the USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.
Included: Provides funding for proposed stories or multimedia projects that illuminate or expose critical community health or community health policy issues and acceptance to the National Health Journalism Fellowship program.
Deadline: May 2, 2011
From the Website: "Proposals can focus on a specific health topic or delve into a confluence of circumstances and conditions that impact health, including environment; social class; crime and violence; urban development; access to health resources or the lack thereof; school absenteeism; transportation or city planning, and and disparities in health. Topics that would NOT be eligible would include clinical trials, medical research, or the latest treatments for a disease or any project involving a population outside of the United States."

California Health Journalism Fellowship, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists from print, broadcast, and online media in California, including freelancers. Applicants need not be full time health reporters, but they need to have a passion for health news (broadly defined).
Included: All-expenses paid seminars in Los Angeles, mentoring for completion of reporting project
Deadline: Aug. 26, 2011
From the Website: "During the Fellowship sessions, Fellows get plenty of time to discuss with experts, and with each other, strategies for covering health news with authority and sophistication. Between the two sessions and for three months after the second session, Fellows confer by phone and e-mail with veteran journalists who guide them through work on major Fellowship projects."

Awards with Upcoming Deadlines

Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism
Eligibility: Open to journalists in all media working in the United States, Canada or Mexico who report on North American West environmental topics in 2010
Award: $5,000 prize is awarded at the annual Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford University
Deadline: Mar. 15, 2011 (book deadline has passed)
From the Website: "We want to reward and showcase reporting that best addresses important Western environmental issues - whether or not it was produced by journalists based in Western news organizations. Starting this year, we invite new players, from startups to nonprofits, students and citizen journalists to submit their finest work. Please refer to our standards for journalistic independence as explained below in the eligibility section."

Mental Health America's Media Awards
Eligibility: Open to media professionals and student journalists in print, online, radio, television and film for work published in 2010, $30-50 entry fee
Award: Winners will honored at a Media Awards luncheon on Saturday, June 11, 2011, during the 2011 Mental Health America Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. and given access to all conference sessions, but must pay their own expenses to attend
Deadline: Mar. 31, 2011
From the Website: "Entries are judged by a committee of peers selected by Mental Health America for their knowledge of mental health issues, demonstrated excellence in reporting and editorial experience."

Award for Excellence in Science and Medical Journalism, The Endocrine Society
Eligibility: English-language journalism related to endocrinology and published or broadcast between March 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011
Award: Award plaque and travel to the Society's annual meeting awards dinner in June 2011
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "The award recipient is selected by the Society's Advocacy and Public Outreach Core Committee (APOCC). The committee will give weight to entries that demonstrate thorough research, accurate reporting, originality and contribute to the public understanding of endocrinology."

Pfizer Award
Eligibility: This prize is awarded in recognition of an outstanding book dealing with the history of science. The book must be published in English during a period of three calendar years immediately preceding the year of competition (books eligible for 2006 were published in 2003, 2004, or 2005). Edited volumes, as well as works with more than 2 authors, are not eligible. A multi-volume work by one or two authors may be nominated only after the publication of all the volumes.
Award: The award consists of a medal and $2,500.
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "The prize committee may consider books where medicine or technology is a central theme. However, both the Society for the History of Technology and the American Association for the History of Medicine award their own prizes and while strict separation of fields is not always possible or desirable, the Pfizer Award should be given to a book that is principally a history of science."

Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment, Society of Environmental Journalism
Eligibility: Any journalism that is predominantly about an environmental subject and published or broadcast in 2010 with $30-$80 entry fee
Award: $500 first-place, $200 second-place and $100 third-place prizes may be awarded in all categories.
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "Honors outstanding environmental reporting. Award is given to encourage journalists to help educate the public and public officials on environmental issues. Results achieved by the reporting may be included."

Educational Opportunities

Masters in Specialized Journalism, USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication
Eligibility: Complete online application; separate requirements for each program
Program: Nine-month program with flexible schedule
Deadline: March 5, 2011
From the Website: "These highly customized degree programs are primarily designed for experienced journalists and gifted amateurs; the arts program welcomes practicing artists and recent graduates of arts academies and conservatories."


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