Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday miscellany

Today's "@issue" section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution features an interview with epidemiologist Devra Davis, author of a new book called "The Secret History of the War on Cancer." She's been a lightning rod for controversy for as long as I can remember, and if this interview is any indication Davis is not surrendering this role anytime soon. Her new book apparently claims that some of the world's best-known cancer epidemiologists were essentially on the take, pocketing money from tobacco and asbestos interests while publishing studies that put more blame on genes than on these and other everyday exposures.

In her new book, Davis argues that the so-called "war on cancer" has spotlighted diagnostic tests and novel therapies while soft-pedaling big money carcinogens like tobacco. Although I think that tobacco is the single biggest modifiable risk factor for cancer, Davis once published studies shifting the blame away from tobacco and onto environmental pollutants. But hey, it's all about learning as you go.

Speaking of which, check out the website Although we don't dwell on this, JRMC 8350 is a community journalism course: students must find the local angle for every story. This website provides excellent gut checks that help us determine whether we're really approaching our town with an open mind, or instead recounting a plot we framed in advance.

One final note, sparked by Red & Black's story on killer microwave popcorn: any JRMC8350 student who posts an acceptable critical analysis of a health/medical story in R&B or the Athens Banner Herald picks up 5 extra pounts for the term. This analysis must use a checklist as rigorous as the one deployed by, and if the article is about a clinical trial using theirs is a fine idea.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Coach is in your corner

Writing Coach Kimberly Davis has covered cops and courts for a daily newspaper and profiled Kanye West and Ludacris for Ebony. She has written about health, religion, race and higher education, and dozens of other topics for national and regional magazines.

Kimberly graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 1996 and came to Grady College in 2006 with a decade of professional writing and editing experience. She has taught and done research while pursuing her MA, and without Kimberly Grady College probably would not have an exciting partnership with New America Media, the nation’s largest network of ethnic news organizations.

Here’s the best part: Kimberly is your writing coach. Her job this semester is to help you brainstorm story ideas, plan reporting strategies, coordinate with photographers, and revise your copy. She has regular office hours from 9-12 on Mondays and is also available by appointment. Whatever your dilemma, she can help you think it through.

How good is she? Let’s put it this way: she edits everything I write, and my work is better for it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday papers and upcoming guests

The front page of today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution showcases the latest in a series of investigative pieces about mentally ill Georgians dying from lack of proper care. If anyone has forgotten that jails and prisons have become society's de facto mental health faciltiies, this is a vivid reminder. Reporter Andy Miller, co-author of the series, will guest lecture in JRMC 8350 on October 3.

The lead story in today's "Week in Review" section of the New York Times is called "Unveiling Health Care 2.0, Again." You'll want to read this -- and stay alert for ongoing coverage of health care plans put forth by presidential hopefuls -- so you'll be ready for November 28. That's the penultimate class meeting, when you get to grill four College of Public Health students about health care platforms of various candidates.

This coming Wednesday you'll have a chance to try out your long feature ideas twice in the same class meeting. Award-winning online editor Jim Alred will meet with us for the first half of class, and after the break we'll be joined by editors from newspapers and magazines in greater ATH. Be prepared to pitch!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Inspiration for the next steps

Now that all you 8350 students have met your first deadline, it's time to gear up for your multimedia adventure. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll make contact with your photojournalism partners over the weekend. It's important that you work as a team to explore topics and find the story that will grow into your long feature, photographs, and audio-slide production.

To help you get started, check out the links at
These are finalists for the 2007 Online Journalism Awards and there's a lots of great stuff here. Scroll down and you'll find some excellent pieces done by students. "The Science of Sex," for example, is built from man (and woman) on the street interviews conducted in a park. The sound is natural, the people are real, this is proves that human interest does not have to be high-tech.

More audio-slide presentations recommended by photo and multimedia guru Mark Johnson: (We watched part of this in class.) (Just for fun.)

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More jolt than Jittery Joe's

Admit it, you got quite an adrenaline rush when Dr. Dan Colley feigned sudden death while describing the worst consequences of Chagas disease. I know I did! Slides for his excellent presentation, "What reporters need to know about covering infectious disease," will soon be linked to the syllabus posted on the KnightHealth teaching page.

While you were busy launching your health/medical blogs over Labor Day weekend, I was catching up with back issues of The New Yorker. In the August 13 issue, Hot Zone author Richard Preston writes a gripping piece about Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a genetic disorder that drives affected boys to bite off the tips of their own fingers (among other things). Check it out.

Everyone did well launching the blogs and I'm eager to see how these conversations develop during the coming months.