opinion

Goodbye

American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession.

Posted Sept. 2, 2013

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It's time to wrap things up here at American Medical News. This is our final issue.

Those of us in the newsroom all arrived here pretty much the same way. It was a job. Only over time comes the awareness of what a privilege it is to serve the medical profession.

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The first issue of this paper, which debuted as The AMA News. Photo by Ted Grudzinski / AMA

Physicians deliver our children, ease the pain of our parents, prolong the lives of our friends. Eventually, we become the subject of those enlightening — and frightening — patient-doctor conversations that we were once happy to get paid for writing about in the abstract.

In those ways, we are like everyone else — that is, everyone in this country who truly has access to care. That last part is a story we won't have the chance to see through to the finish. However, AMNews reporters have had a front-row seat to every other major event and controversy in American medicine since 1958, and a platform from which to tell you about them.

Much of that ink — probably far and away more so than any other topic — was devoted to Medicare. It didn't become an accomplished fact until 1965, but the idea was clearly on the minds of the then-five-person newsroom, as well as our publisher. In the inaugural issue, the long-ago forerunner of this editorial page carried a corny-even-for-the-times cartoon of the British lion with its tail in a knot over socialized medicine.

The list of everything else we covered would make a good starting list for a socioeconomic encyclopedia of medicine in modern America. Even a list of just a few of the more recent items — the Affordable Care Act, electronic health records, developments in patient safety and the sizeable migration from independent practice to physicians as employees — represents many thousands of hours of reporting, writing, editing and production.

Our coverage has clearly struck a chord in the medical community. We go out as one of the five top primary care print publications. At one time that would have been enough to stay in business. But the decline in print advertising hit us the same way it hit other newspapers. In the good times, we ran more than 100 pages. We're now practically back to where we started — 16 pages then and as few as 24 in recent years. Our online edition was not destined anytime soon to fill the gap in revenue, also a familiar story across all publishing.

What we offer editorially was laid out concretely in our first issue — a publication intended to be “practical — to help doctors figure out the day-to-day problems that go with practicing medicine, bettering the health of the community and the profession of medicine. … It will be The News' aim to keep physicians informed on legislation affecting the practice of medicine, trends in business and investments, news and court decisions in the medical field and to report the who, what, when, where, why in the world of medicine.”

When we look at the paper today, we see that those objectives have remained relevant and our commitment to them has endured. When the paper was launched, it was called The AMA News, and we still hear it called that on a fairly regular basis. Frankly, it drives some of us in the newsroom up the wall, given that our name was changed in 1969.

But, really, why should we be surprised? To some observers, the fact that we are a trade publication published by an association defines us as a house organ.

That first issue tried, preemptively, to set the record straight: “While The AMA News will not be a 'house organ' of the American Medical Association, it will report on the Association's many and varied activities.”

That's been tested going on 3,000 weekly news cycles, and tens of thousands of articles, since that statement was set in type. There isn't the time and editorial space left to dissect all that content. But now that we are at the end of our run, and we look at this and all the issues of recent memory, the paper of today matches the intention on which it was founded so long ago. The telling but unscientific measure of how many times we've been confronted by exasperated AMA staffers with “Hey, whose side are you people on, anyway?” suggests that if, in fact, we were secretly operating as a house organ, we probably should have done a much better job.

For the record, we were always on the same side. It's the one that helps doctors do their work.

Now, some thanks are in order.

We have been blessed with many loyal readers. There wasn't a day in this newsroom that we weren't thinking of you in some way. Many are AMA members, and to those physicians especially we send our gratitude. Certainly there are personal benefits that come with membership, but it is also a statement in wanting to see the preservation of the medical profession. It was wonderful to be a part of that.

We've worked with a terrific staff throughout the AMA. A special farewell to everyone in publishing. Our words couldn't have made it onto the page or through the mail without some very smart and dedicated people on our side. To our friends at JAMA Network, we wish you every future success.

And our thanks to the AMA, the institution we've been a part of for so many years. American Medical News didn't create the notion that doctors need to be informed about the rapidly changing world of medicine. It was this newspaper that was created because the AMA recognized that need. The AMA can be counted on to continue in that and every other part of its mission.

As for us, it's been great to have played such a long-running role in that worthwhile work.

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