Skip to main content.

10 Health Journalism Tips from Veteran Health Writer Pat Anstett

10 Health Journalism Tips from Veteran Health Writer Pat Anstett

Picture of Pat Anstett

Editor's Note: As veteran health reporter Patricia Anstett retires after 30 years at the Detroit Free Press, she offers useful tips for journalists, both beginning and experienced. Anstett's 42 years in journalism includes work at four large city dailies: Chicago Today; Chicago Sun-Times; Detroit Free Press; and Detroit News; the National Observer and Congressional Quarterly weekly publications; and Features and News Service, for whom she was a Washington correspondent. 

1.When starting out in a new beat or area, arrange as many in-person interviews as you can to build knowledgeable sources you will have for years. Like a picture, a face is worth a thousand words.

2. Learn about the city you cover and follow its news by reading the local papers and business press and listening to all-news radio and NPR. Today, too many reporters don't even read their own newspaper, let alone anything else and their knowledge is slim, not just of their beat but of the communities they cover.

3. Use a tape recorder for two reasons: It will make your reporting extremely accurate but also hearing the words a second time helps wire in new, complicated information into your brain. Even if you never want to take time to transcribe the entire interview, everything is right there when you need it.

4. Break down the big, wide beat of medicine and health care reporting by picking a new subject or two every year – a mini-beat. And then learn that area and make it your own. Cover everything and anything. I told my editors I was doing this, who used it in my performance evaluations to compliment me for tackling new areas of interest.

5. Sign up for every learning opportunity you can: fellowships, seminars and the mini-medical schools that many larger medical schools offer to the public.

6. Learn how to take charge of an interview and direct it to your needs. Early on in my career, I politely let people ramble. You can get back on track with words such as, "I need to get back to the point you made earlier,'' or, "I need to ask you about something else,'' or if all else fails, "Forgive me but … (fill in) I am afraid we got off track about what I need to talk to you about the most."

7. More on interviews: Explain in the beginning of the interview what the story is about and ask how much time the person has available to talk to you. This helps, too, with keeping the interview on track, as you can say, I know you only have about another 10 minutes and I have several more questions I need to ask.

8. Acquire valuable cell phone numbers by asking at the end of an interview for a phone number where you can reach the person after work, just in case the copy desk calls. Don't overuse the number but save it and make use of it down the road.

9. Some of my best sources never wanted to be quoted in my stories. They preferred to be whistle-blowers or insiders dying to talk to someone who may make a difference. Some of my biggest stories came from people like these. You can then use the information to call others to verify what you've were told, or confirm it through a FOIA of information, perhaps.

10. State oversight of medical professions is very slim. Stay on the case because there are terrific stories and now many states post information about disciplinary actions. If you are just starting out, pick one case and try to find out what happened. A knowledgeable source is Dr. Sidney Wolfe in Washington D.C., at the Health Research Group within Ralph Nader's Public Citizen non-profit.

Related Posts:

Talk to Us! Health Journalism from a Patient's Perspective

Healthcare Hashtags: Monitoring Health Conversations in the Twitterverse

Complete Health Reporting: Don't Skip Harms When Covering Medical "Miracles"

Good Reads: 5 Long-Form Health Stories to Inspire and Illuminate

Comments

Picture of

G’day Pat, l am writing this from Sydney Australia where l am a medical researcher.
On Thursday the 4th of February 1993 you wrote a story titled: ‘The war against Pain’ featuring Kathryn librizzi.
This story was the impetus of my journey of discovery today 26 years later I have now finish my research which even brought me to America in 2017. I will not give you a history lesson here of research and it’s topic other than to say it was the x-ray dye that caused Kathryn suffering, but you knew that already.
Dr Charles Burton mentioned in this story and l go back 20 years and he can vouch for me.
Pat, this dye a byproduct of Eastman Kodak and University of Rochester, was far too toxic for human use and it’s FDA Marketing License in 1944 was fraudulently obtained by misleading the authorities. Before l go on Pat, l need to share the following with you, all that l share can be supported by historical documentation one of the main reasons it took so long. This too toxic dye was injected into approx 400,000 patients per year in America between 1944 and 1992. Today, there are millions still alive that until recently relied on opiates to reduce their screams to moans.
Pat, your story has an ending and answers many questions as to why there so many Americans suffering today. What is not known and needs to be is this ‘these Americans suffering like Bonnie [you will meet here in the second link below] is due to the American Government permitting this to be used on them and then years later ‘stopping their opiates’ to manage a condition a doctor has stated ‘it’s a disease worse than cancer as it doesn’t have the luxury of death’.
Here are these two links,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN1ArGBZaKM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu0kXtpLt0c&t=7s
once you have watched them and if you get back to me l will send you a copy of a US court deposition were the manufacturer representative admits that the following toxic chemicals were used in its manufacturing, get ready to be shocked Pat, they were Hydrochloric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Benzene, (Cancer forming carcinogenic in the world today)  Hexane, (solvent) Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol) and Potassium Permanganate to name just a few, not forgetting 30.6% of Iodine.
These chemicals were also used in the manufacture of Kodachrome film. Whilst l am unable to prove the following it is my belief the x-ray dye developed by Eastman Kodak and University of Rochester was nothing more than waste-water from this film processing with added iodine. [negative vs x-ray picture]
As l bid you farewell Pat, if this is not a story you wish to delve into now that you are retired, maybe once you have digested what l have shared with you you could put out feelers for another journalist who would be interested, for this which l have shared here, goes far deader.
Kind regards
Derek

Leave A Comment

CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY

Follow Us

Facebook


Twitter

CHJ Icon
ReportingHealth