For medicine & science coverage, news site Stat may be just what the doctor ordered

Rick Berke, executive editor of Stat, speaks to Laura Nichols about the title's strategy to make health medicine and life science content compelling and deliver this news to a general audience

Rick Berke
Executive editor
Preferred contact

What was the inspiration to start this publication?
The inspiration came from [The Boston Globe owner] John Henry, who realized that Boston is the epicenter, in many ways, of health medicine and science for the world.

He saw stories that weren’t being covered and thought this is bigger than a regional newspaper – we should make this a nationwide and worldwide journalistic enterprise.

Boston has Kendall Square, which is crammed with up-and-coming biotech firms, and Longwood Medical Area, with some of the biggest and best-known hospitals in the world. You have such interest from around the country and the world about what’s happening in Boston and in these fields, so it seems a natural place for our headquarters.

How has your experience prepared you for this role?
It has helped immensely. I can draw on my time at The New York Times as an editor and a reporter and my experiences at Politico in a purely digital news position. My experience ranges from running video content to overseeing the news and feature sections at The Times and at Politico starting blogs.

However, I’ve never been involved with building a new website, and all that entails with the engineering and product people. There’s so many fascinating elements to starting it from scratch.

Was there anything you weren’t expecting that you’ve enjoyed learning?
I’ve always been interested in compelling journalism, but I haven’t fully focused on health medicine and life sciences until now and I’m learning so much about those fields.

It’s also been great to assemble a staff of top journalists from around the country and Canada. I’ve been surprised by the excitement and interest and the talent we’ve been able to draw here. It’s a newsroom of close to 40, and another 10 or so on the business side.

Who is your audience and how are you reaching out to them?
We had an ad on The New York Times’ tablet edition and we’re trying to make a splash with marketing, social media, and getting our stories out there with partnerships.

We have an ambitious goal, and that is to make health medicine and life sciences compelling and provocative and interesting to a wide general audience.

My belief is that everyone is touched by these issues and that we can write stories that will interest everyone, but we also want to be credible and not talk down to specialists and experts who live and work in these worlds.

What has the reception been since your launch in November?
Anecdotally, we’re seeing a huge, great response. A specialty publication talked about our gene drive story and noted three major publications had weighed in – The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Stat. I was happy to be called a major national publication less than a week out.

There must have been close to two dozen stories written about us. We’re building our newsletter, which launched in October. We’re not going into numbers yet, but the newsletter readership is going up by the day and it’s a lot more than our business folks expected. The open rate is close to 50%, which I’m told is three times the industry standard.

What are your major areas of focus?
Science is one – which involves taking people to labs, looking at new discoveries, and everything from gene editing to development of new cures to the culture of being a scientist.

We’re also in the business of health and medicine, which would mean we follow the money trail, the profiting and the research spending.

A third is politics and policy – where does this intersect with the presidential campaign, who is talking about these issues, and how are they playing out on Capitol Hill. It’s not just health policy, but also the National Institutes of Health, research funding, and drug pricing.

The fourth category is health, and, broadly speaking, we’re talking about patients and how they’re faring. We’re looking at hospitals and taking people inside that world.

We always look for stories in these areas that no one else is doing. Not just boring, daily journalism, but interesting takes, credible, knowledgeable, and authoritative stories. We’re putting a big emphasis on multimedia storytelling with motion graphics, artists, and data visualization specialists. Our videos are getting a lot of attention and good reviews.

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