Media Insights: Interview With Jacqueline Howard, a Reporter for CNN Health

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There are plenty of healthcare PR opportunities out there, but it can be difficult to break through the noise when you’re trying to secure coverage around a hot trend. Continuing with our media insights blog series, I connected with Jacqueline Howard, a reporter from CNN Health, to discuss tips and best practices for healthcare PR professionals.

Jacqueline attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she served as a reporter for both the student newspaper and station WOLV-TV. Her interest in health and science journalism began while studying for her master’s degree at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. After graduation, she joined HuffPost’s science desk and has covered the health beat ever since.

From the kinds of pitches that tend to capture her attention to when you should be following up, our conversation unearthed several insights that are valuable for every healthcare PR professional:

Are you open to being pitched by PR people? If so, what kinds of pitches do you like to receive? What kinds don’t you like? 

Pitches that are related to the breaking news of the day are typically the ones that will catch my attention. For instance, currently the important news of the day revolves around Covid-19 hospitalizations and schools reopening. When it comes to pitches that may not be of interest — I (and most other journalists) typically avoid promotional content that focuses on a single product or commercial service and not news. 

Are there any phrases or methods employed by PR people that you like/dislike? 

I like when PR people pay attention to stories my colleagues and I typically cover, and offer any follow-up sources or follow-up story ideas. 

For recent articles, you’ve spoken to doctors, public health officials, authors of academic studies, and professors in the fields of medicine, science or health. Do you ever interview people from for-profit companies in the healthcare industry? Why or why not?  

Sometimes I do [talk to people at for-profit health companies] and when I do, it is typically because physicians, scientists or other representatives at that company may have a personal story to tell or can share what they are seeing on the ground as they care for patients or respond to a health crisis. For instance, in December, I spoke with Dr. Laolu Fayanju of Oak Street Health about what he and his colleagues have seen while treating a rotating door of Covid-19 patients.

When considering whether a company is worthy of an interview, are there requirements for their size or market cap? Does it need to be a publicly traded company or are you also open to interviewing private-sector businesses? 

No requirements in that regard. What I and most journalists typically seek is a voice to drive breaking news stories forward. For instance, regarding Covid-19 news, if you can help be our eyes and ears on the ground, a possible interview would likely focus on questions around the trends you are seeing on the ground regarding cases, hospitalizations or testing.  

Does the person from the company need to be a CEO or founder? Or does it need to be someone with a title that includes medicine, health or science? (For example, is “Chief Medical Officer” better than “Chief Executive Officer”?) 

I have interviewed CEOs and chief medical officers before — but it doesn’t have to be someone with those titles. What is more important is that the person being interviewed can share expertise and personal perspective related to the news of the day. An article I wrote in December [2021] features comments from Lauren Moon, sequencing manager for MAKO Medical’s Next Generation Sequencing Lab in North Carolina. She and her colleagues at the company shared their expertise and personal perspectives on sequencing positive Covid-19 samples to identify circulating coronavirus variants. 

How do you like to be pitched? 

Personally, I prefer email and I rarely check my Twitter messages. 

Is it okay to follow up? How long should a PR person wait to do so, and how many follow-ups is okay?

Yes to follow-ups, please! One is enough. 

How long should PR people wait to follow up on an email they’ve written to you?

In my opinion, it depends on how timely the PR pitch is. If the email is regarding breaking news, then I would suggest following up within hours or one day maximum. However, if the email is regarding evergreen content, then I would suggest two days or three days.

Do you ever speak to sources off-record or on background? If not, why? And if yes, on what conditions do you allow it?

In my work, I have done both: spoken to sources off record and on background. In my opinion, off the record typically means the information shared is not reportable. For instance, a source could tell a reporter off-record information for that reporter to then confirm on his or her own. Or a source could say that, “off the record,” there will be a special news briefing scheduled for a certain time on a certain day — so that information is for planning purposes but not reportable. On background, based on my understanding, typically means that the information can be reported but the source wishes to not be named. An example might be, “quoted information,” a state official said on background.

Thank you, Jacqueline, for taking time to speak with me and offer your insights on best practices for healthcare PR professionals. Start a conversation with us today and learn how our media relations and thought leadership support can benefit your business.


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