opinion

Era of excellence in health journalism draws to a close

A message to all physicians from AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, on the era that is ending with the decision to stop publishing AMNews.

By Ardis Dee Hoven, MD , an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist in Lexington, Ky., is president of the AMA. She served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2010-11 Posted Sept. 2, 2013.

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For 55 years, the place where the world of medicine and the world of journalism have come together has been American Medical News.

It has been a good run.

For more than a half century, physicians have been able to count on the hardworking and talented men and women at AMNews to be front and center in capturing the nuances of health system reform, profiling the key players and offering insights into the byzantine world of health politics.

Historically, the paper has been known for reporting outside the purview of clinical journals. Coverage has reached broadly to include health care business and policy, public health, legal issues, the medical profession itself, health reform, practice management, ethics and practice trends.

Unfortunately, despite its legacy of editorial excellence, AMNews is not immune to changing trends in the market. Revenue models that have shifted away from print advertising, increased competition from other news sources and a steady migration of readers to online and digital platforms have made for an unsustainable business model. For some time, the American Medical Association has been making up the shortfall between revenues and the cost to produce the newspaper, but after much deliberation, the AMA has decided to retire AMNews.

Although the decision was difficult, the situation is not unlike what's happening across the publishing environment. The same month that we announced the closing of AMNews, the New York Times Co. sold The Boston Globe, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought the venerable Washington Post. Countless magazines have folded in recent years, some as iconic as Newsweek and Gourmet and dozens of others, including niche publications like National Geographic Adventure, Vibe and Metropolitan Home. The august Christian Science Monitor has long since become a totally online publication.

The readers of those publications are just like those of AMNews. Beyond physicians, the newspaper's readers include lawmakers and their staffs; the staffs of state, county and specialty medical societies; members of the federal government's executive branch; health regulators; administrators of health programs; medical students; and other journalists. For every one of these readership segments, information has become much more personal in the digital age. Now we carry our media with us everywhere we go on our phones and tablet computers. It has become the way we check our calendars; communicate with our spouses, children and colleagues; and share news about our lives and careers. And the AMA must develop and distribute content that better meets physicians' news and information needs — and responsibly manage the costs while doing so.

American Medical News went online in 1995. In the ensuing 18 years, it has been a go-to source for physicians and nearly everyone else who needs to follow developments in this changing world of new technology, new payment models, new delivery systems and new laws. As a bonus, online readers have been able to search 13 years of archives. More readers are likely to see this column online than in print.

Today, with the tremendous fragmentation in the world of news and information, readers want the go-to source to be the go-with source. After all, the world of journalism has changed at least as much in the past decade as the world of health care. And as we are changing the ways we do things in the medical profession, we also must change the way we communicate with physicians and the public. That means enhancing existing or creating new mobile AMA communication vehicles that can provide immediate access to physicians and the broader health care community of timely, relevant information about medicine, medical practice and the profession.

The AMA remains committed to keeping physicians well-informed. The JAMA Network is — and will continue to be — a world leader in disseminating clinical research and information. The recently launched JAMA Network Reader App makes it easier than ever for physicians to access the valuable content of The Journal of the American Medical Association and its sister journals on their smartphones, mobile devices and computers.

Meanwhile, our current AMA online communication vehicles are proving popular and remain in place to disseminate physician-focused news. We are working to enhance these channels to ensure that physicians keep getting the information they need and in a format that better caters to their busy and hectic schedules. Social media channels including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will play an increasingly important role in our future communication efforts as well.

The AMA is the nation's largest physician organization. What we do has meaning for physicians throughout the country, and it is part of our charter that we keep our members — and members of the public — informed.

Here, though, is the place where I want to extend a sincere thank-you to everyone at AMNews — not only the reporters and editors whose names I know, but also the capable and clever copy editors, designers, artists, IT professionals, sales staff and everyone else who has worked hard behind the scenes to produce what has been a respected and well-known medical newspaper.

Over the years I have gotten to know many of the fine people who report for the publication as well as Editor Benjamin Mindell, who has kept things together and moving forward. Their work has been recognized and acknowledged by the news and medical industries that have shown their high opinion for AMNews in the many awards earned by the publication as a whole, the creative design team and the very able reporting staff.

To the men and women of AMNews, thank you. Thank you for your dedication to excellence. Thank you for your professionalism as impartial reporters. And thank you for keeping me and thousands of other readers informed, enlightened and inspired.

Ardis Dee Hoven, MD , an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist in Lexington, Ky., is president of the AMA. She served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2010-11

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