Sunday, January 27, 2008

Advice from a veteran to a newbie

Interesting Q&A on the nasw-freelance listserve. I thank Nancy Allison and Bob Roehr for allowing me to quote their posts in full.

First, Nancy's question:

Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 15:50:33 +0000 (GMT)
From: Nancy Allison
Subject: [NASW-Freelance] First medical conference
To: NASW-Freelance discussion list

Hi everybody,
I'm a new member of NASW and have written about health issues for consumer and university magazines, but have never attended a medical conference (or written about one).

This summer, I will be in Paris during the dates of the European League Against Rheumatism conference. My stepmother has scleroderma, so I am interested in going anyway to hear about new research.

But I'd also like to write about the conference and make some new contacts. Is it crazy to think that I can do this, never having done it before? I really don't know where to start.

Any pointers (I realize that they might be in the vein of: "stick to alumni magazines, honey!") would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,

Nancy Allison

Then Bob's response:

Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 11:43:31 EST
Subject: Re: [NASW-Freelance] First medical conference

I think a lot of it depends on what you mean by "conference coverage." My experience is that generally it means writing about individual resentations or sessions for a clinician reader, with rapid turn around -- often that same night, or within 1-2 weeks of the conference.

Ideally one has experience covering conferences and knows the subject matter inside out. The later is important to both understand the materials as they whip by, and to make editorial judgments on what is new/important in the context of what has been presented and published in the field in the last 6-12 months. If you don't have that background knowledge base, then trying to pick it up at a conference and simultaneously turn it around on short deadline is a nearly impossible task; it is not the situation for on the job training.

If you do have that type of background knowledge of rheumatism, and have written about it with clips to show (ideally with the level of detail for a clinical not a consumer audience), the next step is to get a sense of where that particular conference stands in the hierarchy of meetings on the subject. There has been such a proliferation of meetings over the last few decades -- many operated largely to generate revenue for either a company or a professional association -- that editors and publishers have to be judicious in what they cover. Only then would I think about researching what publication and editor to approach.

Keep in mind that coverage is planned and assigned 3-12 months in advance with most organizations, and they tend to use the same people to cover the same meetings year after year because they have the knowledge base to do so and are known quantities that can deliver a good product on deadline. But there are always conflicts with other meetings and churn, sometimes at the last minute.

Bob Roehr
That's excellent advice from a true veteran. I'd only take issue with one minor point. Although I've covered many different areas of medicine, I'm occasionally assigned to a meeting in a specialty I'm not familiar with. I usually feel at sea during the first half-day or so of the meeting, but once I've absorbed the lingo and figured out the issues that are important to the docs in that field, I can write intelligently about the presentations. Understanding statistics and medical science in general can go a long way if you're a quick study.

This gives me an idea for a blog post that I hope to write in the next few days: Rules for Covering Conferences in an Unfamiliar Specialty.

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