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Career Profile: Former Boston Globe Deputy Editor Karen Weintraub Turns Freelancer

Career Profile: Former Boston Globe Deputy Editor Karen Weintraub Turns Freelancer

Editor's Note: In November, we highlighted two freelance careers in health journalism. This week, we have a first-person account of Karen Weintraub's freelance career. Weintraub decided to leave her position as deputy health and science editor at the Boston Globe in 2009. She leveraged that experience to keep her freelancing plate full of meaningful work and now writes regularly for the Globe, Technology Review and EverydayHealth.com. She wrote this detailed description of her work for Career GPS. You can find this week's health media jobs and opportunities at the end of the post.

I made a choice to leave the Boston Globe as I was winding down a 9-month Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and Harvard, in the Spring of 2009. My husband's job was in jeopardy because of the economic downturn, and it looked like the Globe was poised to lay off a slew of people (which it didn't, thank goodness), and I got scared that we'd both be unemployed at once.

I took a communications position that turned out to be a bad fit. While I was considering what to do, I scoped out the freelance scene and realized that there was a lot of work available for someone with my background (five years of Health/Science editing at The Boston Globe and 12 years of reporting at various papers).

Since I began freelancing at the beginning of the year, my biggest decision has been what work not to take. Early on, I decided that my first year would be a test to see if I could make it – both financially and otherwise – as a journalist. So, I've been turning down any work that resembles public relations, though I could make more money writing for university publications, say, than I do writing for news outlets. As a former editor at The Globe, I've had the easiest time working there, because I know what they're looking for and still think like a Globe employee. I usually write two short Q&As and one to two longer stories a month for them. Soon after I began freelancing, I talked to the editor of Technology Review, who asked me to start pitching him stories. I usually write two to three biotech stories for their website every month. I also write a short blog item every seven to 10 days for EverdayHealth.com, an opportunity that came along thanks to someone whose freelance work I had edited at the Globe.

I would like to start writing longer stories and to do more magazine writing, but frankly, because of my comfort with daily journalism, I can make more money by doing a lot of smaller, newsy stories than I can by writing fewer, longer pieces. Plus, I don't have many connections in the magazine world.

Before I started freelancing, I asked myself what else I would want to do, besides writing news stories. My answer was teach and write books (I wish I had had more lucrative thoughts, but unfortunately not). So, now, I am teaching one journalism course a semester. The first class, at the Harvard Extension School, I managed to get because I had talked to them when I started the Knight fellowship, hoping to teach then. They didn't have any openings, but remembered me a year later when they did. I co-teach that class with a friend, and our first semester went well. Our student reviews and a recommendation from another friend helped me get my second teaching gig, in Boston University's Science and Medical Journalism program.

I also made a connection early on – again through a mutual friend – with Harvard Health Publications, and am now under contract to write two books, one on autism and one on adults with ADHD with local researchers.

So, I'm busier than I've ever been, work crazier hours and am often more stressed than I was when I had one job. (Two solid days off now seems like a luxury, not a weekend.) But I'm also happier than I've been for probably a decade. I'm working at my dining room table to finish stories that I decided to write. I pick my kids up from school every day and get to be a part of their daily lives, instead of hurrying home just before bedtime.

My goal was to make half of what I made last year. I will surpass that, and – counting the savings from not having to hire an afternoon babysitter – will come within $10,000 of what I earned at the Globe. Lately, I've turned down a few opportunities for full-time work. I'm sure I will go back to an office some day, but for right now, I'm quite content.

Opportunities in health media

Health and Education Editor, Detroit Free Press (via JournalismNext.com)
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newspaper

Medical/Science Writer, Life Extension (via mediabistro.com, free registration required)
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine

New Projects Editor, Men's Health
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Mobile/Tablet

Publisher (scroll down to listing), Health Division Group, Eagle Publishing
Location: Washington, D.C.
Status: Full Time
Medium: Publishing

REMINDER: Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, Association of Health Care Journalists
Eligibility: Work published in 2010 on a wide range of health topics including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics, entry fee $30-$75
Award: Cash prize of $500 for first place winners in five categories, a framed certificate and complimentary lodging for two nights and registration for the annual AHCJ conference
Deadline: Dec. 28, 2010 (discounted rates), Jan. 28, 2011
From the Website: "The contest was created by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups."

REMINDER: Kaiser Media Internships Program
Eligibility: New journalists who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with experience reporting on health issues of diverse and immigrant communities, typically graduating from college and/or journalism school
Included: 12-week summer program with stipend, travel, training, and some accommodations, and 10 weeks residency with a news organization
Deadline: Jan. 6, 2011 for broadcast
From the Website: "The Media Internships Program provides an initial week-long briefing on health issues and health reporting in Washington, D.C. Interns are then based for ten weeks at their newspaper, online, or radio/TV station, typically under the direction of the Health or Metro Editor/News Director, where they report on health issues. The program ends with a 3-day meeting in Boston to hear critiques from senior journalists and to go on final site visits. The aim is to provide young journalists or journalism college graduates with an in-depth introduction to and practical experience on the specialist health beat, with a particular focus on diverse and immigrant communities."

REMINDER: 2011 Hillman Prizes
Eligibility: Work published in 2010 in the United States with impact on social justice or public policy
Award: $5,000 plus a certificate and travel to NYC for our reception
Deadline: Jan. 31, 2011
From the Website: "Since 1950, the Sidney Hillman Foundation has honored journalists, writers and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good."

REMINDER: Nieman Fellowships in Global Health Reporting
Eligibility: Full-time journalists with at least five years experience
Included: One academic year of of study at Harvard's School of Public Health, access to faculty and courses across the university, three to four months of fieldwork in a developing country
Deadline: Jan. 31, 2011
From the Website: "Nieman Fellows represent the changing face of journalism. They come to Harvard from locations as different as Bangor, Maine, and Younde, Cameroon. They work for national and local print publications, broadcast news outlets, news Web sites, and documentary film ventures. Some are making their mark as freelance journalists. Some have practiced their craft under repressive governments or on far-flung fields of conflict. Together, each year they form a Nieman class that is rich in diversity, experience and aspirations for the years ahead."

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