More than you wanted to know about
the position of
Health Tech Insider
Dear Prospective Writer;
This open letter describes some of the details about an available freelance writing position for Health Tech Insider, a website with daily news and information about wearable and mobile technology for health and medical applications, as well as about enabling technology such as energy harvesting and wireless communications.
Interesting work for very little pay
First and foremost, the pay for this assignment sucks. If you’re an established professional freelance writer, you probably don’t need to read any further. The pay is $90 a week for three 300-ish-word pieces, one per day. You will invoice and be paid monthly. We pay promptly: within 30 days and usually faster than that. This is not enough to make a living on. But if you’re starting out, this could be a good assignment for a number of reasons that I’ll cover in a moment. Or it could be steady “egg money” to support some other work that you do.
About Health Tech Insider
This site was launched in 2014 and I was hired as the founding Editor. In addition to the website, we publish a weekly email newsletter. The website and subscriber list have enjoyed modest growth and we have established an engaged audience of industry leaders. In November 2017, I purchased the publication.
In sum, this is still a startup. We are forging new partnerships all the time, and growing the business to become attractive to potential sponsors. The pay sucks now. We don’t expect it to suck forever, but we can’t promise how soon it will get better or by how much.
As stated earlier, you will be tasked with writing three pieces a week for Health Tech Insider. I describe the editorial mission as “beyond the fitness band.” As I mentioned above, we cover wearable and mobile devices for health and medical applications, as well as developments for components and other systems that can make these devices more practical and useful.
Note that I use very broad interpretations of “wearable.” We have covered everything from watches to implants to exoskeletons. I also include products and services that may have a wearable Health Tech component (such as some emergency alert systems for seniors) or that use a smartphone or other device in a role that could eventually be taken over by a wearable.
Our stories generally break down into the following large categories:
- Wearable devices for health applications: These are products and services intended for consumer use that they can obtain without involving a physician or other healthcare professional. They can be for general health, or they can help manage chronic conditions. They have to do more than just count steps or calories, however (unless they do so in some particularly unusual or interesting way, such as the head-mounted camera that watches you eat.) In general, the device or system needs to track some other form of data than you’d get from just a fitness device.
- Wearable devices for medical applications: These products and services require a prescription or are available only to healthcare professionals. They can be systems to provide more data about patients. (This would be a good time to find out why hospital readmissions under ACA are such an important point for hospitals and insurers, if you’re not familiar with that already.) They can also use technology – typically wearable – to help underserved populations, such as in developing nations. Be on guard for stories that only apply to one region; our primary focus is on the United States, so if we cover something that is only available in the EU, we are careful to point that out. (Another research exercise: why are automatic insulin pumps for diabetics more advanced in the EU than the US?)
- Enabling technology: These are new developments – typically still in the research lab stage – that have the potential to significantly impact some segment of the wearable Health Tech device market within the next three to 10 years. Some of the areas that we watch are battery and other energy storing technologies, energy harvesting (motion, heat, light, and radio waves), all manner of sensors, lab-on-a-chip systems, low-energy processing, and printed and flexible electronics. We also include non-electronic solutions, such as the Chinese teenager who got a 3D-printed titanium vertebra to replace one damaged by a tumor. If it’s technology, and you wear it, it can be fair game.
- Market projections: Analyst firms are constantly publishing forecasts for one wearable segment or another. We don’t report on all of them, but we do cover a lot of them.
- Analysis and commentary: We don’t do a lot of this as a stand-alone piece; commentary is generally included in each post (as I’ll get to shortly). We do it on rare occasion, however, if there is an issue that deserves special discussion. One example was the recent post about the potential impact of wearable devices on employee sick day policies and practices. Note: I’m a big fan of the Law of Unintended Consequences, so pieces about the unforeseen impact of a product or service are generally a good idea.
I’ve presented this list in order of their appeal and importance. In a given week, most of the posts would be in the first three categories. Posts in either of the last two categories should come up once every week or two.
In general, we do not care if the product, service, or technology exists yet or not, so long as we are clear about that with the reader. Whenever possible, we include a horizon estimate for when something under development might come to market, but this information is not always available.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns are fair game, but we try to avoid them because they tend to be smoke and mirrors. Figure on one every week or two, but no more frequently than that.
To begin with, I will assign stories so you don’t have to chase after them or wonder if a given item is appropriate or not. I will also provide you with a primary source for each assignment. We (almost) never publish a story without referring to a primary source. This means one of the following, in order of preference:
- A press release on the company’s website
- A press release on a press release distribution site (such as Business Wire)
- Content on the company website
- Content on a company blog
- Content on a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign site
It is (almost) never acceptable to base a story on some other news outlet’s post or story, no matter how reputable that source might be. If you can’t track the story down to a primary source, it’s not a story. The reason for this is that the Internet has turned “whisper down the lane” into a science, and items that are partly or completely wrong are rapidly picked up and republished all over the place, which makes it appear that the content is legit. Don’t guess; find an original source, or skip the story.
Note: this is not a journalism assignment. We are not paying you enough to track down people to interview them and include quotes. The typical story does not have room for quotes anyway, so they’re really not needed. In the vast majority of cases, you’ll be able to write your piece based solely on the primary source material.
A typical story
There are four main components to the average post:
- Headline: This is your best chance to catch the reader’s attention. Body parts, “Apple,” and common chronic conditions are often effective. Also, if you have a link to a video in your post, add “video” in square brackets at the end of your headline. Headline writing is an art, so don’t be surprised if we rewrite a lot of yours, at least at the start.
- Image: Every post gets an image, either from the company or something original that we create from stock photos. Why? Because adding images greatly increases readership, especially when you promote a post on social media (which we try to do as much as we can; you’re welcome to help.) The images are formatted to be 600 pixels wide, and 275 pixels tall. We often capture a high-definition frame from a company video or website to get the illustration. If there is a video, we will add a YouTube-style “play” icon to the image, and link the image to the video.
- First paragraph: This is two to three sentences long. It needs a grabbing lede that sets the stage. It does not need to be a traditional journalistic WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy. And don’t be afraid to let your personality show through. It’s okay to have opinions and share them. (In general, I use “we” to speak for Health Tech Insider in general, and “I” to signal my own personal observation or opinion. I try to use “I” sparsely, but I don’t avoid it.) Then state the general point of the post.
- Second paragraph: This includes more details about the post subject. It gets into features or specifications or unique aspects of the topic.
- Third paragraph: This wraps it up, and generally includes a “Why Should You Care?” statement or two. Explain why this is important. Point out potential ramifications beyond just the obvious. This is essential; this is where we provide the “value-add” for readers beyond what they could get just from reading the press release on their own. This is where we make them want to come back and find out what we have to say about other topics.
Finally, a post gets tags. I often include tags that don’t even appear in the post, but are relevant and would help someone find the post if they were looking for something using that tag.
Also, every post must have at least one link, but usually gets two or three:
- A link to the company or organization home page
- A link to the primary source for the content (which could be another page on the company site)
- Links to home pages of other companies and organizations mentioned in the post
- A link to a relevant video (linked to the opening graphic)
If you’re interested in writing for this site, this would be a good time to stop and go read a significant number of the more than 2,400 posts that have already been put on the site. Look for how the posts fit in (or not) with the descriptions and guidelines offered here. Get a sense of how wide the boundaries are, and what makes a good story.
Okay, that covers most of the preliminaries. Now let’s get to some questions you may be asking. (And if you’re not asking them, perhaps you should be.)
What is the primary responsibility of this assignment?
I have written more than 1,200 posts myself. Your job is to free up some of my time so that I can help the project grow. If it takes less time to publish your pieces than it takes me to write them on my own, then you will be successful in the position. If not, then I’ll either go back to writing them all myself or try to find someone else.
Writing badly will take up my time. I will edit all your pieces, at least for the time being. I have no problem with you making the same mistake two or three times, but after that, it could become a problem. I expect you to look at each piece carefully to see what changes I’ve made, and try to figure out why I made the changes I did. If you don’t understand why I changed something, please ask. It will save me lots of time if I don’t have to make that change again in future posts.
Being slow to respond will take up my time. In some cases, I will add queries that I want you to address before we can publish your piece. We don’t try to write industry scoops, so we’re not in a huge lather to publish instantly, but I do expect you to answer queries on a post quickly.
Not communicating will take up my time. If you’re going away or won’t be available for some reason or other, we can probably work around it. If I don’t hear from you, however, and have to spend time trying to contact you and worrying about whether I’m going to get posts from you on time, that will be a big problem.
What’s in it for you?
$30 a post is about $.10 a word, and by any measure, that’s pretty bad. We’d like to pay more, we plan to pay more in the future, but that’s what we can afford now. If you want to get in now and you work out well (see the part about saving me time, above), you will be at the head of the line for better pay
I won’t tell you that you’re writing for “exposure.” As the saying goes, people die from exposure. That’s usually just a vague way of saying that “we don’t have any clear benefit in mind for you.” But there are other advantages for you to consider.
Digital health technology is hot. And as we’ve heard from our readers, nobody out there is covering the health and medical applications the way that we do. Nobody. You will get paid to learn about and stay current with the fastest growing segment of the wearables market. And since your posts will have your name on them, you will get individual credit for your knowledge. Editors are notoriously risk-averse, so if you can show them a steady output on a subject that they are interested in, you are more likely to get assignments from better-paying outlets for longer pieces.
You may get the opportunity to attend conferences. Our travel budget is limited. (Extremely limited.) We hope to be able to pitch in part or all of your expense to attend wearable technology conferences. And you’ll certainly be eligible for a press pass; we often are media sponsors for these events, so we have lots of credibility already with conference organizers.
You get to work with me. I’ve been a full-time professional freelance writer for more than 30 years and had significant success in that time. (You can find out a bit about me at www.alfredpoor.com.) I will edit all your work, and I’ll do what I can to help you become a better writer. I’ll also be available to help you with questions about the business of freelance writing, and I have lots of contacts that could be useful to you. I’ve mentored lots of young writers and editors over the years, and I’ll be happy to do what I can to help you.
What’s the next step?
If you get the gig, you’ll be entering your posts directly into WordPress (to save me time, right?) but for now, I’d like to know more about you. Here’s what to do next:
Write me a letter telling me why you think you’d be good at this assignment, and give me one to three story ideas that you think would be worth writing about. (If any of the suggestions are for something that has already been covered, then you have not read this letter carefully enough.) If it sounds like you’re a good match, I will give you an assignment and pay you $30 to write it, whether or not we publish the post.
Whether the piece gets published or not, it does not mean that you will get the on-going assignment. We’ve got room for one person at this point, and I think that this approach is fair for all involved and will take the least amount of time for all of us. (There’s that time thing again.)
I’m also open to the possibility of Door Number 3; if you want to suggest another next step, be my guest. Maybe you have questions you want to ask first. Maybe you’d like to set up a phone call or video chat to discuss the assignment. Fine. Make a case for it and let me know what you want to do.
If you’ve made it all the way to this point, I want to thank you for reading this. Whether we end up working together or not, I wish you well and hope that you find success in your writing career.
All the best,
Health Tech Insider