New York Magazine contributor Mark Levine won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists for his piece examining the financial crisis facing the New York City hospital system. Mark describes St. Vincent’s Hospital as “the Lehman Brothers of the local hospital industry: an institution whose dramatic disappearance, once unthinkable, raises dire questions about the viability of the entire system.”
For a story with so much depth, it’s surprising to learn that Mark isn’t a veteran health care or business reporter.
“I was writing this piece for a general-interest magazine, so it seemed useful that rather than being a health industry insider, I could represent the position of our readers,” he says. “But it also meant that I had a lot to learn if I didn’t want to settle for the kind of generalizations and half-truths that are overwhelmingly the currency of the public and political health care discourse.”
Today’s Tip: If you’re new to a topic, it’s okay to know less than the people you interview, Mark says.
“The writer just has to accept that, and not give into the temptation to stop asking questions because he or she feels exposed as inexpert,” he says.
He relied on several sources who served as his instructors, but he says he had to be vigilant about critically looking at the information.
“If I hadn’t persisted in that way, I would never have gotten the material I needed for the story, and my analysis would have been much more primitive than it ultimately was,” Mark says.
He also advises newcomers to a topic to reach out to their editors. In Mark’s case, his editor served as a sounding board and asked questions that kept Mark seeking new information.