HMJ: Looking and seeing

This blog post is a series of four posts about my experience in Pat Thomas’s Health and Medical Journalism graduate class this semester. 




On Tuesday, Nancy Gore Saravia, scientific director of Centro Internacional de Entrenamiento e Investigaciones Medicas in Cali, Colombia, came to speak at UGA for the Voices of the Vanguard lecture.

She detailed her research in Leishmania, a disease transmitted through sandfly bites, which essentially makes your face fall off. Side note: why is it that these researchers feel the need to show so many pictures?

Over many decades, Saravia’s team showed that most cases of the disease don’t actually make your face crumble off your, well, face. Often, infected populations will have pimple-looking legions or have no symptoms at all. The team was only able to show this after testing large groups of people to see if they had it. The results were controversial at first because others in the field hadn’t seen that.

Her team also showed the current treatment to be often ineffective, especially in children, and that infected peoples were likely to become infected again. Previously, the community had thought of the disease as similar to chickenpox — after you get it, you won’t get it again.

Again, others weren’t seeing that and the results were controversial.

But, her team was right. Once others actually looked for this, they saw it.

Saravia included lots of life lessons in her presentation. She told the audience to thank their mentors and reminded several times that “you make plans, then life happens.”

This lesson stuck with me most, though. You can’t see something without looking for it. A lot of medical stuff is the same way. How can you know what the end result of a surgery is if you don’t ask? You can’t.

Freshman year, I broke my ankle. I tried to wait it out and go to PT, but after a year, it still wasn’t back to normal and I got surgery to remove a bone piece that had become lodged in the joint. I had follow-up appointments, of course, but didn’t have contact with my doctor after the scar healed. Most surgeries are like this. It took probably a year to be able to run again comfortably and regularly. Even now, years later, my flexibility in that ankle is noticeably very different. My tree pose sucks on that side.

He has no idea about any of that though, and can’t tell other patients thinking of doing similar surgeries what the real outcomes are. He hasn’t called every few months to find out. Would that have been a good investment? I’m not sure, but it’s important to remember and think about that. If someone tells you something they think as fact, you should ask if they looked for it. If they haven’t, they can’t know. Proceed with caution.

HMJ: What you can learn about your doctor from Medicare data

This blog post is a series of four posts about my experience in Pat Thomas’s Health and Medical Journalism graduate class this semester. 

New data!


A couple of weeks ago, the Center for Medicare Services released the 2012 database, which details payments made to doctors, the amount of procedures and the rate for which doctors billed.

There’s a dashboard on the government website. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also have dashboards.


How to use the data

1. Search for the best doctors in your area for your procedures.

When doctors do the same procedure frequently, their complication rates go down. They mess up less. Makes sense, right? Like mom always said, practice makes perfect.

If you need a procedure done, you are better off with a doctor that does that procedure all the time. Some physicians do a lot of different procedures, while others do the same thing over and over. Until now, information about how many procedures of a certain type a doctor did was not public. With this data, patients can get a glimpse.

Using The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal dashboards, you can find your doctor by zip code or city and see how many times they billed for a certain procedure. If you are more adventurous, use the site to filter by zip code and procedure. The result will be the numbers for every doctor in your area.


2. Find the cost of your procedure.

The procedure-level data also include billing information. Prices for the same procedure can vary wildly — sometimes the doctor is charging more for no reason, other times the doctor may have sicker patients or be more of a specialist.

Using the New York Times dashboard (The Wall Street Journal doesn’t include average amount billed, only the average amount Medicare paid), find your city and procedure again to see what others in your area are billing or what you can expect to be billed.


What’s on the horizon

Big changes happening for me in the next couple of weeks:


1. I graduate May 9 from The University of Georgia with High Honors as a journalism major and computer science minor. I was also recently awarded as one of the top one percent in Grady at the Presidential Honors Day Luncheon and as the 2014 winner of the George M. Abney award, which recognizes the graduating Grady senior who has achieved the most impressive record in the Honors Program. Leaving UGA is bittersweet, but I’m pleased that the relationship I helped forge between CS and journalism will continue.

2. I have accepted a job as a data reporter at U.S. News & World Report beginning at the end of June in my favorite city — Washington, DC. I’m convinced this is the perfect position for me and am so excited to see what the coming years will bring.

3. I’ll be launching my AP-Google Project at the end of May with a website. I hope to follow that with a book in the coming years. I have learned so much about the intersection of journalism and CS and can’t wait to share it.

4. In between the project launch and my start date, I’ll be traveling for a month with my fiancé and our families. If you want to see lots of Instagrams of French Fashion, holla.

TEDxUGA Talk: New feminism, the confidence gap and computer science

The video from my TED talk is live. I had so much fun working on this over the last year! Give it a watch.

Computer Science Ladies at Rails Girls

There’s nothing I love more than chatting with women just beginning to learn programing and computer science — a scary, but exciting time. Go forth and prosper, ladies!

Key takeaways:

  • Women have been involved in computer science since the beginning.
  • The field has a big gender disparity (obvs).
  • Confidence is key. We talked about stereotype threat, attribution theory and impostor syndrome.
  • What problems women may name when quitting computer science and how to work around those problem times.
  • Future reading, if you want to learn more.

View slides here.

When is news BREAKING NEWS?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what breaking news actually is. It started when my non-journalist roommates were complaining that they were alerted of Justin Bieber’s arrest by a news organization’s mobile application. The problem is that neither of them care about his arrest. Alerts when our audience doesn’t want them annoy users and may cause them to delete your mobile application. Starting too many of your tweets with “BREAKING:” ruins the strength of including the word. BREAKING is supposed to catch a reader’s eye in the feed. It’s supposed to be rare. If we overuse it, BREAKING becomes a “newspaper that cried wolf” type of problem. It won’t have as much impact when you actually need to use it.

So, is Justin Bieber’s arrest breaking news? Where should your news organization draw the line on mobile alerts and social media?

Here are some of the tweets about “breaking news” that came across my feed in the last 24 hours:









Also, this one.

In all seriousness, that is A LOT of breaking news. Too much.

Which ones are really breaking news?

Here are some criteria to ask before using BREAKING:

1. The supermarket test: If someone in the supermarket says something to me about this event or asks me something about this event and I don’t know what they are talking about, should I be embarrassed? Put another way, is this story something normal people will be talking about in a major way?

Justin Bieber’s arrest: Maybe.

CVS stops selling cigarettes: No.

GM profits lower than expected: No.

2. Know your user test: Who is the audience that will care most about this news? Do those people make up half of my audience or more? Everyone’s definition of breaking news is different. Take your audience and their needs into consideration.

Justin Bieber’s arrest: 1. People who are fans of Justin Bieber. People who are interested in celebrity news. 2. For TMZ, yes. For Huff Post Celeb, yes. For The New York Times, no.

CVS stops selling cigarettes: 1. People who smoke. Anyone interested in health. 2. AJC: no. A health niche publication, yes.

GM profits lower than expected: 1. People with stock in GM. People interested in financial market. Investors. 2. WSJ, yes.

3. Actionability test: Does this news require my readers to take a specific action? Otherwise, if my readers gets this news tomorrow instead of right now, will they be harmed?

Justin Bieber’s arrest: No.

CVS stops selling cigarettes: No. Any actions required are far off.

GM profits lower than expected: Maybe, may require movement in stock market.

Results: If the results of your test are 2/3 or higher, it is breaking news. Otherwise, it is not breaking news.

Justin Bieber’s arrest: Maybe. TMZ, yes. NYT, no. No. = If you are TMZ or a Twitter account devoted to celebrity news, this is breaking news. For every other publication, this is not breaking news.

CVS stops selling cigarettes: No. AJC, no. Health, yes. No. = Nope, not breaking news.

GM profits lower than expected: No. WSJ, yes. Maybe. = For WSJ, this is breaking news. If your publication does not cater to investors, this is not breaking news.

Do you think this is a good metric? Let me know on Twitter if you have your own suggestions. 

One easy thing you can do to help save journalism: Stop the math bashin’

During the Online News Association conference this year in my home state of Georgia, the ONA leadership team asked me to speak as part of a panel by AP-Google scholars. I decided to use my seven-minute pulpit for one massive rant against something that has resulted in complications for me in many sections of my professional life, including job prospects, class scheduling and my research on women in computing for the AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship.

Journalists hate math. It’s a common myth and one that I hear often. I’ve heard it from journalism students when I suggest to them they learn a little coding: “That’s cool for you, but I don’t think I could do that. I’ve always been bad at math.” I’ve heard it from top investigative reporters even: “I leave the number-crunching to others. I went into journalism because I hated math!” This is usually followed by a laugh.

Well, guess what? I’m not laughing, people.

The belief that journalists hate math is part of a larger over-arching belief in education that is cemented early on. It’s part of the “hidden curriculum” — everything you learn in school about culture, society and your own abilities that isn’t part of science, language arts, math or history. We are taught that each of our brains are divided right down the middle. The left side is everything analytical. The right side is everything creative. Also, EVERYONE has a dominant side. This notion of the dominant side will then go on to completely shape how you think about your own abilities, your confidence in your skill set and your career path.

The left side might as well be blue and the right side might as well be pink. Girls are often praised for their creativity or writing ability. Boys are more often praised for their abilities in science and math. As a result, they are more confident, enjoy those subjects more, work harder in those subjects and surpass their peers over many years.

Even if you have high test scores in both math and language arts as a child, a teacher, a parent or a family member will pick a side for you on this impossible to cross fence. And there you go. Might as well write your future in stone at age eight.

Most journalists grew up as “right brain” people. Even if a journalist was fine at math early on, all the confidence disparity and reinforcement pushes that journalist to believe she couldn’t do a calculus problem to save her life by the time she enters college.

If you’d like to see the slides that go along with this rant, they are below.

This left brain, right brain nonsense isn’t good for journalists. Why?

1. Data journalism and code journalism are becoming increasingly important. Because of the myth that journalists are bad at math, incoming journalists are scared out of trying anything new in these areas because of a fear that they will not be successful. How could they? They’ve always been “word people.” Several studies in computer science show confidence is actually a better predictor for if a woman will stay in the major than her ability in computer science. Confidence matters.

2. It hurts our credibility. You wouldn’t want an accountant who claims to be bad at math doing your taxes. In that same vein, why would I trust a profession that widely claims that its members went into said profession because THEY HATE MATH to perform mathematical operations (data journalism) and then use the results of those operations to try and change my belief about something.

3. It adds an untouchable, unicorn-quality to journalists doing both coding and journalism. The barriers make gaining these qualifications more difficult. They also make it very difficult to find a job using both skills because you don’t fit into a coder box or a writer box. There is no unicorn box and usually the more profitable coding skills win.

This right brain, left brain dichotomy doesn’t make sense in journalism or in other contexts. To be good at anything, you need to use analytical skills AND creativity.

In music, a performer must have analytics to play through scales, memorize keys and calculate rhythms. Reading or writing music is analytical. A great performer must also be creative in her movements, in how her bow glides over the strings, in the volume she plays.

The same is true in sports. Football players need to know the drills and the movements of other players, but they also need to be creative and to improvise on the field.

A successful journalist needs both the analytical and the creative too. Traditionally, journalism has been thought of as more of a “right brain” skill. Most journalists would probably admit they enjoyed writing over math in school, but journalism is highly analytical (read: science-y).

Let’s look at the scientific method and the way we report our stories.

Almost the same. And look what else this process resembles:


Journalists are more like the “math folk” than we care to admit.

Conclusion: realize you need both the analytical and the creative to be good at anything, especially journalism, and stop saying you hate math. Seriously, stop it. Stop it. I beg you.

Students: How to hack your next conference

In honor of my upcoming trip to ONA13, which I am PUMPED about!

Going to journalism conferences can provide j-school students with invaluable networking opportunities infused in one skills-packed weekend of journalistic glory. Most students don’t take advantage of conferences though. They are often expensive, far away and you might not want to go alone. Especially for students in small universities, conferences are completely worth it.

Which conference?

Depending on which area of journalism you plan to work in, you may want to check IRE, NICAR, ONA, CMA, SPJ or SND. Here’s a list with some additional conferences. Think national, but also local. There may be local chapters of national organizations that host local conferences. The closer a conference is, the less travel costs!

How will I pay?

The organization

First, check for opportunities through the organization hosting the conference to attend for free. Many conference organizations offer free or discounted registration for students. Some even offer travel support. You may be able to apply for specific scholarships through the organization to attend or it may have a program for students to attend and report on the conference such as the ONA Student Newsroom.

Your school

Ask around at your school about possible funding. Talk to older students, professors and administrators. There may be money available to support students in academic-related travel.

Your newspaper

Going to a conference means you can attend sessions about what’s going on in the industry and learn new skills that you can take back to your newspaper. Ask your boss or adviser if there is any money to help with expenses if you are willing to bring back the knowledge from the conference and teach other students.

Go with friends

If you can find journalism buddies to go along with you, you’ll be able to pile into a car and then pile into a hotel room, which means decreasing travel costs. Even if you aren’t able to find a friend to go with, many organizations offer forums for finding roommates to split hotel costs.

How should I prepare?

Ahead of the conference, update your resume and bring copies to hand out. Update your social media presences. Buy business cards using a site like Plan out what you’re going to wear. Casual, but put together is a good look. For women, skinny jeans and a blazer. For men, jeans and a button-up will usually do the trick.

Use the conference website to plan out what sessions you want to attend ahead of time. If two sessions you want to attend are happening at the same time, mark that. You can always head to the other if the first doesn’t turn out to be as good as it sounded.

Follow conference hashtags, check the list of attendees (if one is provided) and Google the speakers. Are there people attending who work at organizations you may want to work or intern for? Make sure you meet them and exchange cards. It’s OK to say “I recognize you from your Twitter avatar.”

What happens when I get there?

The most important thing: don’t be shy! Talk to people. Exchange cards. Don’t stop talking to people. It can be intimidating if you have never networked before but it is absolutely necessary. For the sessions you attend, take notes and earn karma points by putting your notes in a public Google Doc and tweeting out the link with the conference hashtag. Stay active on Twitter throughout the conference and don’t hesitate to reply to or retweet other conference attendees. Don’t let the conference end with the last sessions either. Figure out where people are hanging out for dinner or drinks and go there. Keep it classy, though.

What should I do when I get back?

A couple of days after the conference, send an email to everyone you exchanged cards with. It’s easier if you write notes on the cards explaining what you talked about or had in common so you can reference it later. If you made a connection with that person, follow them on Twitter or connect with them on Linkedin. Write a wrap-up of what you learned from attending the conference and tweet it out using the conference hashtag. Review your notes and check out any tools you heard about at the conference that you may want to use in the future.

Happy conferencing! Also, remember that for conferences you can’t attend, you can get a lot of the same skill benefits by following along on Twitter. Presenters will often tweet links to their presentations and you may be able to find people’s notes or live tweets.

70 Twitter Users To Follow For Online Journalism

As I’m starting an Online News Association chapter at UGA, I’m starting to realize that it is really difficult to like Twitter if you don’t follow the right people. I love Twitter because it’s a personalized news source of content I am interested in. Maybe you don’t know who to follow though…

Here are 70 suggestions from my Twitter account. Follow these people for news on online journalism. I’ll keep adding to it as I realize great people I missed. Comment below and give me some suggestions…

  1. @HuffPostTech
  2. @TechCrunch
  3. @TheNextWeb
  4. @DailyDot
  5. @PSFK
  6. @mashable
  7. @KQED
  8. @Gawker
  9. @IRE_NICAR, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. account
  10. @Romenesko, Journalism news including Morning Report
  11. @NiemanLab, Articles all about journalism’s future
  12. @journalismnews, Tips and opportunities for journos
  13. @journalismbuzz, Journo news
  14. @knightfoundation, Gives grants for journalism’s future
  15. @ONA, Online News Association
  16. @sunfoundation, Government transparency
  17. @splc, Student Press Law Center
  18. @spj_tweets, Society of Professional Journalists
  19. @thedailybeast
  20. @mediaguardian
  21. @inn, Investigative News Network
  22. @poynter, journo news
  23. @homicideWatch
  24. @journalistslike
  25. @EricHolthaus, Contributing meteorologist for WSJ
  26. @amichel, Open Editor, Guardian US. Co-founder of SparkCamp.
  27. @EmilyEggleston, AP-Google Scholar
  28. @acarvin, Senior strategist at NPR
  29. @fieldproducer, Social media editor at WSJ
  30. @cyperjournalist, Previous ONA president, new media exec.
  31. @dankennedy_nu, Journalism prof at Northwestern.
  32. @rozzy, Digital media at NBC.
  33. @brizzyc, J-school professor (U. of Memphis)
  34. Everyone that works at @buzzfeed (see next four)
  35. @buzzfeedandrew
  36. @buzzfeedben
  37. @michaelhayes
  38. @weeddude
  39. @sal19, Reporter for @LaTimesTech
  40. @webjournalist, Co-founder of #wjchat and ONA board member
  41. @thematthewkeys, Deputy social media editor at Reuters
  42. @markknoller, Live tweeting pro
  43. @ckanal, HuffPost senior editor
  44. @kzhu91, Google-AP scholar
  45. @CraigSilverman, Spundge/Poynter
  46. @eyeseast, Creator Homicide Watch
  47. @danroth, Linkedin exec
  48. @chanders, CUNY, j-school professor
  49. @Jeffconderman, digital media fellow, Poynter
  50. @anjalimullany, ONA, social media editor Fast Company
  51. @girlswhocode, Rad not-for-profit
  52. @kickstarter, Crowd-sourced funding
  53. @codeforamerica, Like Teach For America, but code
  54. @codeacademy, Free coding learning website
  55. @quartznews, New type of news website known for simple design
  56. @GetGlue
  57. @Tumblr
  58. @Twitter
  59. @Pinterest
  60. @Wanelo
  61. @Storyful
  62. @Storify
  63. @moneyries, Senior editor, @thedailybeast
  64. @Emilybell, Director Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia
  65. @MeredithA, Managing editor for CNN Digital
  66. @cnnireport
  67. @RachelDePompa, Investigative reporter for NBC12
  68. @Ustream
  69. @Antderosa, Social media editor Reuters
  70. @Journtoolbox


SoCon13 Recap

The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University hosted SoCon13 — the longest running social media conference in the Southeast — on Saturday. Hundreds of social media professionals gathered to discuss marketing’s future, and how it intersects with journalism.