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Veteran Health Care Reporter’s Tips on Covering Obamacare

Veteran Health Care Reporter’s Tips on Covering Obamacare

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As anyone who has come into contact with the Affordable Care Act will tell you, it’s a monstrously complicated, ever-shifting work-in-progress.

As veteran O.C. Register reporter Bernard Wolfson told a group of fellows at this week’s 2014 California Health Journalism Fellowship, many of the hospital executives, insurance agents and doctors tasked with implementing the ACA don’t fully understand its complexities, let alone dogged reporters or ordinary consumers.

Wolfson paints this as both good news and bad news for health reporters. The good news: Readers and editors need and appreciate clear and concise explanations of health reform’s provisions. Plus, it’s a huge, ongoing news topic, so you’re going to be in the paper a lot, often on A1.

The bad news: There’s no way you’re going to be able to cover all the complexities and nuances of any given topic in the space you’re allotted. And the copy left on the cutting room floor will inevitably contain the information that at least some readers will berate you for omitting.

Other frustrations Wolfson pointed to include never having time to do all the stories you want to do, and the fact that the sources you turn to for clarification often don’t understand the details themselves, or give conflicting answers, leaving you to sort out the confusion as best you can.

When he searched for an image that embodied the Obamacare reporter’s plight, Wolfson chose an image of a figure wrestling an octopus.

And that’s before you get to the highly controversial politics of the issue. According to Wolfson, it’s a can’t-win situation for journalists: If your particular ACA story is too positive, you incur the wrath of conservatives. If your story casts aspects of reform in a more negative light, the Obamacare loyalists are up in arms. Try going right down the middle and you anger both camps, he says.

“Get ready for some very entertaining hate mail,” Wolfson said. He’ll share his personal bounty of colorful examples with anyone interested.

For a helpful reporting primer on the Affordable Care Act, click through to Wolfson’s PowerPoint presentation. And follow his reporting on Obamacare here.

Image by antisocialtory via Flickr

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