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Pitching health stories to AOL Patch

Pitching health stories to AOL Patch

Picture of Angilee Shah

Depending on whom you ask, AOL's Patch is either an innovative and well-intentioned new venture to infuse local news back into American communities, or it's "the Walmart of news," a $50 million behemoth set on invading communities and running local sites from corporate headquarters. But they are hiring, and hiring en masse. While comments on Patch's model and hiring practices have made the rounds on Twitter and in blogs, for this week's Career GPS I set out to answer the question: Is Patch is a good place to pitch health stories?

You can find new opportunities in health media at the end of this post. Keep up with Career GPS by signing up for the ReportingonHealth weekly newsletter or via RSS.

The Patch network now includes over 60 sites in California. West Coast editorial director Marcia Parker told the Los Angeles Press Club last month that Patch is aiming to have 500 local sites nationwide by the end of the year. But the local news project has come under heavy criticism (particularly from LA Weekly) for plagiarism on its West Hollywood and New Rochelle, New York sites, and more recently for not crediting a news wire service for content on its Venice, California site. They also run afoul of established local news sites that feel Patch is trying to push them out of business.

Anxiety about how Patch will affect the media landscape is not all that surprising; It is, after all, a new business model competing for local advertising dollars. Clearly Patch has goals as a profit-seeking business, but Parker said that she measures success this way: "Do we cover and serve communities well?"

In terms of covering local health issues, the Southern California Patch sites have so far been fairly predictable. In the last month, the West Hollywood Patch was heavy on stories about a recent  AIDS Walk and the celebrities who participated. They also feature a Farmers Market column with information about healthy eating. Beverly Hills Patch ran an opinion post about the disciplinary action taken against Octomom's fertility doctor. South of Los Angeles, Poway Patch featured a longer piece about prescription drug abuse in a local high school.

The One Square Mile series on Culver City Patch offers the most sustained attention to community health issues thus far. But it differs from other parts of the network in that it is a collaboration with the USC Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism (home of ReportingonHealth and the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships)  that relies on student contributors. So far, they have run three stories in the Fox Hills area that address the environmental and health effects of living next door to a busy freeway.

Parker said in an email to Career GPS that community health is an area where Patch is looking to increase its coverage. "We don't have a set mind as to what kinds of health stories we should be doing - we just want to cover that topic because it is important to our communities," she wrote. In addition to listings of programs and classes, she says that "local, data-driven health stories are of keen interest and so are human interest profiles."

Pitches should be sent to one local editor; each Patch site lists its editor's contact information prominently at the top. Those editors then negotiate rates which Parker says, "vary depending on length, complexity, usage across more than one site." Parker acknowledged in her   Press Club talk that Patch's freelance rates "are not fantastic," and range from $50 to several hundred dollars. Freelancers should indicate in their pitch if other communities might be affected by the story and should expect to be edited and fact-checked by local and, if appropriate, regional editors.

"The nice thing about a new project," Parker said after the Press Club event, "is its ability to be molded."

Indeed, that is the takeaway message for health journalists interested in pitching to Patch. Rates and terms are negotiable and directions in Patch's contribution to community health news are still being forged.

Jobs, Fellowships, Awards

Communications Coordinator [PDF], California Pan-Ethnic Health Network
Location: Oakland, California
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Communications Specialist, American Psychiatric Association
Location: Arlington, Virginia
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Medical Writers (Consumer Health), ShareCare (via Medical Writing Training)
Location: Atlanta, Georgia/Telecommute
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Health/Medical Editors, Arthritis Today (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Status: Contract ($40-50/hour)
Medium: Online

Online Managing Editor, (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Plainsboro, New Jersey
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Reporter, Gray Sheet
Location: Washington, D.C.
Status: Full Time
Medium: Trade Publication

Web Content Writer, LifeBridge Health, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online/Communications

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation Health Coverage Fellowship
Eligibility: Open to medical reporters and editors
Included: n Year-long fellowship with nine days of training on issues ranging from mental health to public health and health reform in Babson College's Center for Executive Education in Wellesley
Deadline: December 3, 2010
From the Website: "Most media fellowships take seasoned journalists away from their jobs for a full year and require employers to pay part of the cost. In contrast, the Health Coverage Fellowship residency component lasts just nine days, requires no financial contribution from media outlets, and ensures that participating reporters and editors come back with a list of story ideas, a Rolodex of new sources, and a full year of free tutelage from a former Boston Globemedical reporter with 20 years of experience at small, mid-sized, and large newspapers."
Contact: contact Program Director Larry Tye at larrytye [at] aol [dot] com.

REMINDER: Interactive Census Workshop (Dec 12-17, 2010)
Eligibility: Journalists with interest in multimedia
Included: Lodging and meals at UC Berkeley, but not travel
Deadline: Nov. 6, 2010
From the Website: "The KDMC at UC Berkeley is offering a customized visual storytelling workshop to train journalists on new ways to process data from the 2010 Census. Fellows will illustrate the information using visualization and mapping tools to create a clearer, more meaningful picture of the complex statistics gathered in the national survey."

REMINDER: Request for Proposal for the Los Angeles Toxic Tour, and
Eligibility: Short-term projects using text and multimedia to document pollution and communities in greater Los Angeles
Included: Maximum proposed budget of $6,000 with funding mostly from individual donors; work will bepublished and promoted by Newsdesk and Spot.Us, and shared with regional and national media partners, including the Investigative News Network
Deadline: Nov. 12, 2010
From the Website: "Would you like to bring the award-winning "Toxic Tour" reporting project to Los Angeles? and Spot.Us welcome proposals from journalists interested in developing new coverage of pollution and environmental health in Los Angeles communities." (Read more about this opportunity in the Oct. 29 Career GPS post "An Experiment in Funding.")

REMINDER: Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, Association of Health Care Journalists
Eligibility: Work published in 2010 on a wide range of health topics including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics, entry fee $30-$75
Award: Cash prize of $500 for first place winners in five categories, a framed certificate and complimentary lodging for two nights and registration for the annual AHCJ conference,
Deadline: Dec. 28, 2010 (discounted rates), Jan. 28, 2011
From the Website: "he contest was created by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups."

REMINDER: Kaiser Media Internships Program
Eligibility: New journalists who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with experience reporting on health issues of diverse and immigrant communities, typically graduating from college and/or journalism school
Included: 12-week summer program with stipend, travel, training, and some accommodations, and 10 weeks residency with a news organization
Deadline: Dec. 1, 2010 doe print, Jan. 6, 2011 for broadcast
From the Website: "The Media Internships Program provides an initial week-long briefing on health issues and health reporting in Washington, D.C. Interns are then based for ten weeks at their newspaper, online, or radio/TV station, typically under the direction of the Health or Metro Editor/News Director, where they report on health issues. The program ends with a 3-day meeting in Boston to hear critiques from senior journalists and to go on final site visits. The aim is to provide young journalists or journalism college graduates with an in-depth introduction to and practical experience on the specialist health beat, with a particular focus on diverse and immigrant communities."

REMINDER: Nieman Fellowships in Global Health Reporting
Eligibility: Full-time journalists with at least five years experience
Included: One academic year of of study at Harvard's School of Public Health, access to faculty and courses across the university, three to four months of fieldwork in a developing country
Deadline: January 31, 2011
From the Website: "Nieman Fellows represent the changing face of journalism. They come to Harvard from locations as different as Bangor, Maine, and Younde, Cameroon. They work for national and local print publications, broadcast news outlets, news Web sites, and documentary film ventures. Some are making their mark as freelance journalists. Some have practiced their craft under repressive governments or on far-flung fields of conflict. Together, each year they form a Nieman class that is rich in diversity, experience and aspirations for the years ahead."


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