Oconee's Covered Bridge

Oconee's Covered Bridge
Elder Mill is symbol of rural county dealing with challenges of urbanization

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Field trip!

The UGA grad students closed out their trip to Chicago with a field trip. Our destination was not a journalistic one. In the words of our fearless leader, Pat Thomas, we needed to get a little culture before departing a blustery Windy City-- a place that is under the mistaken impression that tulips can make 57 degrees feel like spring.

After breakfast and one last glimpse of the exhibits at the Association of Health Care Journalists meeting, we grabbed a cab to the Art Institute of Chicago. There we saw a fabulous Matisse exhibit. It focused on his transformation during the World War I era from impressionist to cubist. Or at least that's my summary of it.

And while the works of this great French master were absolutely fabulous, the exhibit I'll probably remember longer featured the work of William Eggleston. His photographic record of the Deep South in the 1960s and 1970s brought back memories of my childhood in south Georgia.

In addition to his main works in Tennessee, Mississippi, and New Mexico, Eggleston shot in and around Plains in the days before Jimmy Carter won the presidency in November 1976. I grew up just 40 miles from there. Seeing the old cars, mud puddles, and rundown buildings made me think of how little we had for so long in the South--and of how we kept so many in poverty and what amounted to indentured servitude for scores of years. Sad times really, when you think about it.

Katie and I are at O'Hare now waiting to board our delayed flight to Atlanta. Time to wrap it up and post this last blog from AHCJ. It was indeed a great time in Chicago!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Freelancing for health-related trade and professional publications

After spending years in journalism school and developing all the skills needed for creating publishable content for the independent press, why would someone want shift over to working for trade and professional publications and website?

That is one way of stating the question I was asked to address in a session on "Surviving and thriving as a freelancer." Plucked into the last spot of the day on Saturday afternoon at the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Chicago, the 75-minute session featured four freelance health care journalists, a senior freelancer, and two editors of magazines.

My role was to bring the perspective of the editor of Pharmacy Today, a magazine published monthly by the American Pharmacists Association. Our association is just one of thousands in the nation's capital, and that's just the start of the association world. There are so many associations across the country (and around the world) that there is even an association for associations (the American Society of Association Executives). And there are so many health care groups that the ASAE has a special committee that tries to meet their special needs.

I made five main points in my 6-minute presentation.

The secret to happiness is finding something you like to do and getting someone to pay you for it. If there is a cause or medical content area a journalist particularly likes, then linking with one or more associations with similar views can be symbiotic.

Within health care, trade and professional associations are generally established to protect the turf of some industry or group of workers. Their editorial products may not be viewed as, and in fact may not be, independent journalism. This limitation or criticism might be more accurate for trade groups, which are more directly concerned with the marketplace, than for professional health care associations, which typically have as their ultimate mission the betterment of patients. Also, in many cases, the limitations on journalists are not much different than in local situations where large employers or advertisers are dealt with carefully.

Associations are not as apt to go for pieces that are critical of their industry or profession as for general information or feel-good articles. But that doesn't mean that anything negative is off base. For some time, I've wanted to cover some of the pharmacists who have ended up in jail. Some of them did really bad things to get there. One told me, "It's easy to get in here, but it's hard to get out." But one Ohio pharmacist was caught in medical-error situation that unfortunately was prosecuted criminally. His is a story that pharmacists need to learn about. Negative or sensitive stories might not be the greatest first pitches to an association editor, but neither does the writer have to feel like they left journalistic principles at the door.

Pitching to associations is not that different from pitching to any publication. The freelancer has to do some homework. Access the association's publications in print and online. Study the content. See how many articles appear to be written by freelancers. Gauge whether the freelancers are people in the field--that is, people trained as the professionals represented by the association--and how many are medical writers or health care journalists.

If the freelancer feels like there is a match on the content and a fit on the type of writing involved, contact the editor with several compatible topics, issues, or angles you'd like to cover. It's probably best to start with e-mail these days, but follow up quickly with a phone call if no response is received. Work with the editor in fleshing out the story, loop back with questions during the interviewing and writing process, and deliver the article on time.

With preparatory spadework and a little luck, the freelancer could soon be one of the go-to writers for an association publishing operation. After that, the possibilities are endless. Many associations publish longer continuing-education pieces, need help with promotions for seminars and conventions, have active social media operations, and publish books and electronic products. A strong health care journalist can be build a lasting relationship with any number of associations--and get paid to do it!

Writing about the complicated stuff: Milwaukee journalist impressed me

Translating complicated jargon and medicalese for patients and a lay audience is not a skill I've have developed all that much. In fact, something as simple as reporting on the peer-review process used by journals has been a real challenge for me.

During a session at the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists on Friday in Chicago (where later in the day I enjoyed pizza at Due's--hence the photograph), John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described Side Effects, an occasional series he's been writing on the intersection of "money, medicine, and patients."

The topics Fauber has tackled really blew me away. "UW linked to ghostwriting," "Physicians' disclosures to UW, journals inconsistent," "Journal editor gets royalties as articles favor devices"--those are just three titles on a long list of articles published over the past year or so. Those are also meaty subjects, ones that cut close to home for me (as a journal editor) and that I would have trouble explaining in plain English.

As Fauber talked, the editor of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Catherine DeAngelis, MD, sat two chairs away. She could only shake her head and look down at her notes as the misbehaviors and ethical problems of fellow medical editors were described.

I'm looking forward to the end of the semester when I have time to read Fauber's articles word for word. Leading readers in such important but complicated issues--and engaging them with an effective narrative--is a real talent and a great service to society. I'd like to get better at it, and Fauber has much to teach me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chicago: My kind of town

I love Chicago. It's great to be back in this city of Sandburg's big shoulders for the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ). The four days of the meeting offer a unique opportunity to the UGA grad students in attendance--including me!--to meet new people in this new part of our lives!

After arriving at O'Hare on Thursday, I took the "L" into the city. On the train, I used my iPhone to figure out where to change trains to get closer to the Hyatt at McCormick Place. But when I arrived at Roosevelt and disembarked, I couldn't get the Web page to reload and show me the number of the bus I needed to take from there. So I flagged a cab and forked over the eight bucks, figuring I'd already seen enough of the real people anyway.

In my hotel room, I was awed when the bellhop opened the curtains. This skyline photograph is taken from the room, with Lake Michigan and Soldier Field ("da Bears") on the right and all the city's big buildings filling up the rest. A little off the the left edge of the photograph is the iconic Sears Tower (actually it's now the Willis Tower--Willis was my dad's middle name, who would of thought).

At the meeting itself, I took in a session on how to use Web-based software to map demographics and health conditions. During two newsmaker briefings CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, MPA, presented.

Frieden announced increased efforts at the Atlanta-based agency to reduce smoking levels among Americans, which are currently stuck at about 20% of adults. CDC wants to use state-based, high-impact strategies to get more people to quit using tobacco.

Sebelius discussed the new health care reform law and its implications for Americans. She seemed very genuine when asked in the question-and-answer period about her disappointments during the yearlong, arduous process of debate and discussion over health care reform. Sebelius was particularly disheartened when provisions that would have been very beneficial to patients--such as discussions about end-of-life care with physicians--were reduced to inaccurate sound bites ("death panels") and then removed from the bills solely for political reasons.

An opening reception closed the day by providing a taste of all the different types of people who are at AHCJ. Reporters, media relations folks at hospitals and other institutions, students, and freelancers are all here.

It's going to be a fabulous meeting--and the town will be great too!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Multimedia, take 2

I revised my multimedia Soundslides presentation to focus more on Oconee residents who lack resources.

Professor Thomas watched my first version and gave me some good advice. In addition to using too many photos and changing them too fast, I was trying to do much. I was bringing in the problems of people in the county who have too much money (especially kids with disposable income that can be funneled into drugs and alcohol).

So here's an attempt to get my new and improved Oconee nutrition multimedia project in an online form that even Windows users can access! Access my UGA website. The presentation should start in your Web browser. If you have any problems accessing this from an Apple computer, try the Firefox browser--or just go the iDisk mentioned in the last blog and click on the index.html file inside the folder.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Multimedia project posted on iDisk

Hello everyone. I wrapped up my multimedia project a day early. Since I have to fly to Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, I decided not to take a chance on bad Internet connections for the photos, audio files, and all.

If you're on an Apple, you can get to the presentation quickly from the Finder menu. Under iDisk, go to "Other user's public folder." Enter Lmposey when prompted. You can then click on the index.html file (inside the "publish_to_web" folder), and the presentation should play in your preferred Web browser.

On Windows, navigate to http://homepage.mac.com/lmposey in a Web browser. Copy the entire folder to your computer, and then open the index.html file in your browser.

Any other difficulties, just let me know.

I pulled this together in Soundslides, so it's a Flash file. Oh, thanks to Steve Jobs and his urinary competition with Adobe, that means you can't view this presentation on an iPhone (or an iPad)!


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cruising the 'hood

The 'hood? No, this post is not about Oconee County. Or is it?

As I drove through northeast Washington, DC, last Saturday night, on my way back to the University of Maryland campus from a dinner downtown, I thought about Rebecca Skloot and the research she did in coming up with her bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot had spoken at UGA two days earlier and had dinner with the health and medical journalism students that evening at the home of our professor, Pat Thomas.

In the book and at dinner, Skloot described one of her early ventures in search of the descendants of Lacks, whose cervical cells, dubbed HeLa, initiated a revolution in cell biology. In the late 1990s, she drove through a decaying subdivision where many African Americans had lived since the time Lacks died in 1951. Skloot drove in circles, going time and again past groups of current residents who stared at her, wondering what this white lady from Portland, Ore., was doing in the 'hood.

Having grown up in the South during the civil rights era, I have known blacks all my life. Some were the maids who raised me. Others were lifelong workers on my father's and his father's farms. Some were in my classes in the eighth grade, the first year of "freedom of choice" integration. And others came to the "white" high school in the 10th grade, when the traditionally white and black schools were consolidated and our mascot was changed from the Rebels to the Cougars.

Skloot lacked such a background when she began pursuing the Lacks story. The 'hood where she searched for clues to Lacks's story is about 45 miles north of the Washington 'hood through which I was driving, and it probably was worse in the late 1990s than what I was seeing in DC last Saturday night. But, if I had been looking for a story that night, would I have had the nerve to stop at these stores, drive through these neighborhoods, and get out and talk with people in search of a story?

I guess the question comes down to whether I've ever been so intrigued and obsessed by a story as Skloot was with the Lacks legend. I have written and edited hundreds of articles and even a few books, but they were ones I could usually research at a computer screen or in a library. Until I entered this master's program, my search for news sources had been on a well-lit path, one where I could rely on corporate and government announcements and a softball interview or two.

But now I've been confronted with real life, with the need to talk to people, as Prof. Thomas put it once, who don't look like I do. In the fall, that meant African Americans, Hispanic Americans, the unemployed. This semester, with Oconee County for a beat, everyone pretty much looks like me. But they often don't share my personal views on a lot of hot-button issues. I'm not sure which one has been more difficult—it's been just as hard to approach people who don't think like I do as those who don't look like I do.

All of which means that I have a lot of respect for Rebecca Skloot and her perseverance in getting this book researched and written. She really wanted to give voice to a woman whose life was taken silently during a period of segregation but whose cells live on today.

Maybe one day I'll have enough passion for a story that I will go into the 'hood in search of answers--perhaps even into some of those frightening 'hoods in Oconee County with the half-million-dollar McMansions. Maybe.