Inspired by Bill Heisel, here goes:
1. Sometimes, you can go home again. It’s been several years since I attended AHCJ, due to budget cutbacks when I was at the Univ. of Washington. With my new job at Seattle Children’s, we each have a small budget to travel, “learn and grow.”
I’m grateful that I had the chance to attend, and reminisced with health journalist Joanne Silberner (former health policy correspondent based at NPR’s flagship in DC) about going to the second AHCJ conference ever, also in Atlanta but held on the grounds of the Emory Conference Center Hotel. A man who I randomly met and chatted with on the plane on the way to Atlanta was floored to hear that she was on our plane; I introduced the two of them after we landed. He said that she was missed and that “we” needed her back on the air.
I remember running around the Emory grounds at that meeting with Daniel Yee, former (I think) AP reporter. That was back when I was a bona fide journalist. This time around, I’m in public relations. I’m a flack, as Scott Hensley said at one of the sessions. (He didn’t mean this in a derogatory way.)
The setting this year was not so woodsy and definitely “city-esque,” with a Hard Rock Cafe right up the street and places blaring loud music. I know – I’m a former music critic but even I don’t like loud music, especially when it sounds like karaoke.
Some 600 people attended, which may or may not be a record. It was impressive. I enjoyed meeting new journos, touching base with journalists I’ve only emailed with of late and seeing former D.C. colleagues like Shelly Gehshan (Pew Children’s Dental Campaign), Bill Erwin (Alliance for Health Reform) and Peter Ashkenaz (HHS). I learned that Peter is no longer with CMS. Silly me. We keep in touch via email and Facebook, and mostly talk about music. I now know that he’s in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the meaning behind the windshield photos he posts on FB. I know that Dan DeNoon of WebMD fame has a cabin in the mountains, with a family of foxes living underneath said cabin. Andrew Holtz and his wife are moving to a houseboat – not in Seattle, mind you but in Portland, rather.
2. Social media should be fun. I went to two helpful social media sessions. One from Matt Thompson at NPR, which was kicked off with Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to talk about.” People are talking, talking about people. Social media is a conversation. The new goal is to Master the Conversation. He’s so convincing, he even got Tom Paulson to drink the kool-aid, so there’s got to be something to what he’s saying. Matt used Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic as someone who’s mastered the conversation, on race and culture. He responds to comments on his blog posts, and treats conversations as valuable as his work.
Transform your rolodex into a network, says Thompson. Take the best of it to feed further reporting. One example – NYT op-ed questioning shaken baby syndrome, doc who reads Commonhealth (site in Massachusetts started by two journalists) says this op-ed is irresponsible, critiques the op-ed. Story continued on Commonhealth and went back to NYT, made its way into NYT magazine cover story. Shows the potential benefit.
Re: being fun – this conversation mostly occurred in another social media session with Maryn McKenna, Scott Hensley and Serena Marshall, who said make sure you’re having fun with social media. If you’re not having fun, take a break and come back to it. McKenna said it’s okay to be promotional with social media, but if that’s the only thing that you do, people notice really fast and it gets boring. Marshall said for every 5 to 8 professional posts, share something personal.
3. I should take my flipcam with me everywhere. Mark Johnson, senior lecturer at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the U. of Georgia, led a helpful session on video, the right way. He looked rather bookish but kicked off the session by encouraging attendees to vote for his brother’s band, who was in a contest in New York (but we couldn’t actually vote because the contest was closed; they sounded somewhat like the Cranberries). Johnson said that the audience is not yet ready for video. But we need to be prepared now. Five years from now, if you don’t have video, you’ll be crushed by the competition.
Think about video as one component, not the entire story. The click away rate on videos is stunning. You have six to 10 seconds to hook someone with video. 85% of viewers are gone in 10 seconds if you don’t have the hook. Page views are a dying metric. As technology gets more sophisticated, time on the page is more and more valuable. Johnson said he doesn’t want music in news stories because it influences the story and can be deceptive.
4. The ways of communicating with journalists has expanded. I use Profnet and HARO (Help a reporter out) at work, and recently signed back on to Twitter. When I was at the UW, I launched the Twitter and several Facebook accounts. I went through withdrawal when I left UW and started my new job and recently found my way back to Twitter, when I started looking for contact info for journalists and found their social media handles. Maryn McKenna said that social media has pretty much replaced Profnet and HARO for her. PIOs will see my post, she said.
5. Coincidences happen. (sung to “Accidents will happen,” by Elvis Costello) I had lunch rather randomly one day in the hotel restaurant. I say “random” because I can often be indecisive and what I ended up doing that day could have gone either or any way. Conference burn-out always sets in for me, and I need some alone time. I almost bought a salad, again, at the deli and took it to my room to eat. But I decided instead, quite decisively, to sit down in the restaurant and have something hot, maybe even something with fries. (Color me bold and outrageous.) I was way over-teched out at the conference, and immediately looked at my phone – Twitter, Facebook, what’s on my email.
After a few minutes, a man at the next table said, “Mary Guiden.” It was Harry Joiner, a friend and former grad school buddy that I hadn’t seen in 15 years or so. Un-f-ing real, omfgg type of surprise. Seriously. One is a million is how he described it later. He was meeting with a client who just happened to be at the same hotel, at a different conference. He saw my name tag, but I’m pretty sure if a few more minutes went by, I would have recognized his voice because it is so distinct. Harry and I were pretty close in grad school at the Univ. of S. Carolina, even though I was only there for a little bit more than a semester. He was coming off a punk rock band phase, and he was from Georgia. He was humorous, sarcastic, goofy, fun and kind. We were in different language tracks (me – French, Harry – Portuguese), but still bonded. In one class, I remember Harry sitting behind me and every morning, he’d take a sip of his coffee. “Aaaah,” he would say after swallowing that sip, and it always made me smile. It’s reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode, too.
Anywho – it amazes me that I had this million to one meet-up in Atlanta. I think the Universe, or God, or whoever you believe in was perhaps keeping an eye out for me. My boyfriend broke up with me shortly before that conference and ever since then, little signs of positivity have been coming my way to remind me that I’m on the right track, that life is good, that it can in an instant bring a surprise like Harry Joiner right to me, to make me smile, to remind me that I’m pretty great, too. (Thanks for that, Harry). As he put it: You look awesome; he (ex-boyfriend) does not sound awesome. End of story.