6 easy tips: a beginners guide to staying news-savvy

A big part of my job is monitoring studies that are going to come out in major medical journals and helping decide which are newsworthy. This means that I get to read these studies while they are still under “embargo” and not available to the general public. Journals do this so that news outlets can plan their coverage. For example, last week the World Health Organization launched a massive report on Antimicrobial Resistance (which includes antibiotic resistance). They sent it around to major media organizations so that when the report was actually released to the public- we had already interviewed experts and our piece was ready to go.

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Staying current and connected even while on location in Lebanon

What I love is opening up the paper or reading my daily “medical news roundups” and already knowing all the headlines. It’s an incredibly nerdy thrill but but I like keeping abreast of topics that are relevant to my career. I actually think it will make me a much better physician if I am up to date on the current research and controversies. So I intend to stay on top of the news coverage.

This can be very intimidating. The good news is that you don’t need to devote hours to stay current on current events. Here are some tips for people hoping to stay up to date:

  1. Get a subscription to a real old fashioned paper. If it’s sitting in front of you, you’re more likely to browse and read stories that might not have attracted your attention enough to click.
  2. Have a routine and use bookmarks to help: I have a bookmarks folder in my browser with 5 news sites that I check every morning when turn on my phone or sit down at my desk. I click through and
  3. Get email digests: for general news I subscribed to OZY’s Presidential Daily Brief. For medical news I subscribe to a few sites including email alerts from Medpage. These places curate emails and summarize the news of the day. If I miss something with my usual browsing, 9 time out of 10 it will show up in an email digest. I mostly delete them after skimming the headlines unless I find something that interests me.
  4. Use social media: Twitter is a great way to stay up-to-date. I follow the New York Times (@nytimes), the Associated Press (@AP), NBC News (@NBCNews) and many other outlets. They all post quick tweets with their breaking stories. I also follow other reporters or newsmakers who often post articles that I never would have otherwise read. I also appectiate my friends on Facebook who post interesting stories. In fact, I am currently developing a story for NBC News based on an article my friend posted.
  5. Consider downloading an app:  if I find an article I like on Twitter, Facebook, online etc- I often don’t have time to read it in real time. So I download it to my “read later” app which stores the story on my phone or computer so that I can read it later even if I’m not connected to the internet. This is especially great for subway/train commuters. Here is an article comparing a few of the most popular apps.
  6. Don’t get too ambitious: unless it’s your job it’s very difficult to be 100% on top of all news. If this is your goal, you will get overwhelmed and risk abandoning your efforts all together. Start by skimming headlines of one news site each day and build up as you see fit.

Happy reading everyone.

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Tropical Medicine and Twitter

ImageI was invited to travel to DC to attend the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygeine’s annual conference in Washington DC. I was delighted because my clinical interest is skin disease and global health/tropical medicine. So I left sunny Palo Alto and flew across the country to re-immerse myself in some good old fashioned medical learnin’.

The conference so far has been incredibly exciting. I gleefully texted friends that I was psyched to see several sessions solely dedicated to helminths (parasitic worms). Only I would be that big of a nerd but, hey, as Popeye would say “I yam what I yam.”

To be honest, this conference is very technical in many ways: lots of really cool basic science and research about malaria, dengue fever and other global health issues. I understand bits and pieces from the clinical side but a lot of the science goes straight over my head. It was admittedly fun listening to clinical content- I didn’t realize that I would long for the days of hearing “thrombocytopenia” casually dropped in a conversation.

What has been new and excited for me is approaching this from the angle of a reporter. I walked into the press room with a bit of trepidation. But, to my shock, I am a reporter now and people do take me seriously- partially because of the title of my fellowship. I loved reading the press releases and seeing what the conference organizers felt would be newsworthy: everything from a study comparing dengue fever in two parts of the country to new vaccines for malaria.

The other fun thing has been engaging in social media. I am fairly new to twitter but am really starting to appreciate how it keeps me connected to people in journalism and health care who curate and amass content that keeps me interested and on top of the news.

During MedicineX (a medicine and technology conference I reported from in September) it seemed like everyone was on twitter. (Here’s a clip from a video interview I did about this subject:

Here the “twitterverse” has been markedly more limited. Less than 10 people seem to be regularly tweeting about the conference. For those who don’t know- it’s possible to have a conversation on twitter by including a hashtag (denoted by the # sign) in your tweet. Then, when you click on the hashtag- you see everyone who is talking about that subject. In this case the hashtag was #TropMed2013 so a sample tweet might be “Now we can protect kids from Japanese Encephalitis. This year a JE vaccine safe for children was rolled out #TropMed2013”

I ended up meeting a bunch of like minded people during these conversations and we got to meet in person and talk about global health and science and reporting.

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The other highlight was a panel entitled “Global Health and the Media: From Shoe-Leather Reporting to Television to Twitter” that was moderated by the amazing Dr. Michele Barry– one of the heads of my fellowship and an amazing mentor. On the panel were Donald McNeil (NYT global health reporter), Michaeleen Doucleff (NPR global health producer/reporter), Emily Judum (from Global Post) and Penny Duckham (from Kaiser Family Foundation).

The whole panel was fantastic. I won’t rehash everything but there were a few key highlights:  McNeil started off talking about his experience reporting on polio in Pakistan and how he did a story regarding how vaccinators were being killed. His experience reflected deep, old fashioned  investigative reporting and it was riveting. Ducleff spoke mostly about social media and she was incredibly optimistic (not something you get a lot of in the journalism world): “it’s easier than ever for scientists to be published” she told the crowd. Clearly there are no excuses why scientists (including doctors) shouldn’t be communicating their work to the public.

The night ended with a real treat for me: dinner with the whole panel. I got to hear about McNeil’s experience with the CIA, the work that the Kaiser Foundation is doing with the ACA, what it’s like to work at NPR. We talked about pay structure for journalism and what journalists owe their sources in terms of anonymity. I was honored and happy to be included in the conversation.

Not only that- but tomorrow there is a panel on tropical dermatology. Pretty sure they designed this conference just for me. In the meantime, text me if you want live updates on parasitic worms!