How to Pitch Health, Medical and Fitness Stories

By Nancy Lazarus Comment

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“With medical and healthcare topics, there’s always a delicate balance between being uplifting and the serious emotional reality,” said Kalia Doner, director of content and programming for Health Guru. She spoke at a PCNY/Publicity Club of New York panel on Monday, along with editors from Tonic (Vice), Better Homes and Gardens, New York Magazine’s ‘Science of Us’ and STAT, about optimal ways to pitch health related stories.

Amy Brightfield, Better Homes and Gardens’ health and features editor, concurred. “While caregiving in an important ongoing issue, we cover it so it’s not too depressing.” Furthermore, these editor’s approach is to focus on health topics in an actionable way, to give readers information to discuss with their doctors and help them improve their lives.

PCNY Health Wellness Panel Logos Final

Personal stories are well represented in many of these media outlets. “Storytelling and personal accounts are the bread and butter of Tonic,” said editor Kate Lowenstein. Many are told via video documentaries. For New York Magazine’s vertical, ‘Science of Us’, editor Melissa Dahl said they often do personal stories in the form of lengthy Q and As.

Solid research sources are also critical. “We’re careful about claims by companies being touted,” said Ed Silverman, senior writer and Pharmalot columnist for STAT. Added Lowenstein: “We tread a careful line and tie our stories back to science-based research to reflect trends.”

Montreal Musee Beaux Arts Sculpture2 CroppedHot topics these editors identified as gaining traction now:
• Healthcare, mental health, reproductive rights (Tonic)
• Sleep and stress, both as they relate to mental health (Better Homes & Gardens)
• Personalized medicine, healthcare (Health Guru)
• Mental health and fitness (New York Magazine)
• Prescription drug pricing, FDA regulations and standards, opioid crisis (STAT)

Each panelist also gave a snapshot of their brand’s content:

Tonic:
Vice’s recently launched channel for health and wellness runs the gamut of topics, including personal health and wellness, science and mental health, international global health and policies. All are told in the raw, unvarnished style of Vice’s parent brand. Short-form content is news based, while video series cover lighter topics, such as exercise routines of cultural influencers. Long-form documentary videos tackle serious conditions like Hepatitis C.

Health Guru:
The brand is in the process of transforming from a syndicated site to one that also contains organic content. The search is on now for more text and video-based information across health, wellness and nutrition categories. They’re working with celebrities on their campaigns for healthcare causes and with hospitals and health organizations on topics like chronic diseases’ impact on families.

Better Homes and Gardens:
The “better” section focuses on print, online and video content related to healthy living, specifically the areas of fitness, health and nutrition. They only cover diseases or conditions as they fit into this overall lifestyle approach, and are interested in stories that are relevant nationally, not just in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Topics may include fitness gear, wearables, how activities like meditation or gardening fit into regular health routines, and wellness getaways.

New York Magazine’s ‘Science of Us’:
The primary focus is human behavior and psychology, mental health, and the impact of fitness on the mind. Occasionally they cover other health areas like sex and relationships or how to get to sleep faster. They’re interested in pitches from hospitals and universities with unique programs or new research. Examples of topics that have appeared: hypnosis, pathological day dreamers and unusual memory related conditions.

STAT:
The mission of this one-year old spinoff of the Boston Globe is to cover the frontiers of health, medicine and science. Among the many different beats: infectious diseases, genetics and the opioid epidemic. There is also an opinion section, and selected news stories appear behind a paywall on STAT Plus. Newsletters cover hospitals and biotech. On the Pharmalot blog: pharma issues and points of tension, such as safety standards and R & D challenges.

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