Interview: Jacob Goldstein

Jacob Goldstein is the lead writer for the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog, which launched in March of this year. Goldstein joined the Journal from the Miami Herald, where he was a medical writer.

Jacob Goldstein is the lead writer for the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog, which launched in March of this year. Goldstein joined the Journal from the Miami Herald, where he was a medical writer.

PRWeek: What do you see as the role of the Health Blog, and more generally how do you see the Journal using its blogs as something useful and unique?

Jacob Goldstein: One thing that I think is notable is that it’s an editorial product that was created expressly for the Web. I think that for a newspaper that’s an important point, even at the Journal which obviously has been aggressive in going online and has been successful in getting people to pay for online content. Still, a lot of the content on the Web site is basically newspaper stories and wire stories that are largely written for print. Certainly that’s what people are paying to see a lot, but it’s also clear that the way people use the Web is different than the way people read a newspaper. So the kind of long analytical, smart, narrative stories that are one of the most important and distinctive features of the Journal look very different than a lot of online content. I think ideally the hope – and we don’t always achieve this but I like to think we do sometimes – is to have the kind of intelligent analysis and insight that you get in the print Journal but with a speed and, to some degree, a brevity that is characteristic of the Web.

I think another important element of the Health Blog and all the (Journal’s) blogs is the comments. Every blog post, with very few exceptions, has an open comments thread that anyone who wants to can make a comment. A lot of the time we get very interesting discussions that sort of use the blog post as a jumping off point, but will gain their own intellectual momentum. The Journal draws a lot of expert readers and a lot of insider readers, so that means on the Health Blog we very often will get MDs commenting, we’ll get pharmacists commenting, we’ll get people from drug companies commenting. So there can be an interesting and insightful conversation that goes beyond what we write.

PRWeek: Have you seen any decline or change in the quality of coverage in healthcare issues as newspapers go through a troubled time?

Goldstein: I don’t think I have. I’m not an analyst of healthcare coverage. Certainly the Journal still has dozens of people writing about healthcare for the newspaper. Setting aside the question of just healthcare or of just the Journal, it seems clear that a lot of the future of journalism is online and to look at the numbers it appears the number of online readership is growing and the number of people reading newspapers is flat at best, or declining in many cases.

PRWeek: So are you optimistic about more money going into building new media platforms in the wake of the sale of the Journal?

Goldstein: Yes. I don’t want to speculate about the new ownership, but setting that aside Bill Grueskin, who has been running the Web site, was recently promoted (Grueskin was named deputy managing editor) within the paper. The gist of his promotion was to more fully integrate the Journal’s news coverage as it appears in the online Journal throughout the day and as it appears in the next day’s paper. For example, at his suggestion last week I wrote a Q&A when Mattel announced the recall with a doctor who is an expert in lead poisoning. We posted that in the middle of the day on the blog as the story was unfolding and then used a version of it in the next day’s paper to run along aside a long analytical piece about what the recall means.

All editors everywhere say we want to get our work to people on every platform they’re using. I’ve been doing videos as well. Both interviews as well as pieces that seem to me to be more “Webby” where I’ll just talk in front of the camera for a minute about something that’s in the news. I did that recently when the FDA advisory committee held its Avandia hearings. We had Anna Mathews, the reporter who covers the FDA, at the hearing all day. Besides reporting for the next day’s paper she was filing posts to the blog all day long, which we were putting up in close to real time. Then at the end of the day we shot a video and posted it to the blog that evening which was just me talking to the camera about the meaning of the committee’s decision and the possible implications of that decision. The hope is that gives people a sort of summary and the video is another way for people to get the information if they want it that way.

PRWeek: What kind of interactions do you have with PR professionals, and do you have any tips for them?

Goldstein: I get a lot of pitches, mostly over email. I’m glad to get them. I’m glad to know PR people are reading the blog and think it’s an important enough source of information to think its worth pitching. I would ask if people are going to pitch me they spend just five minutes looking at the blog beforehand. Because I think a fair number of the pitches I get wouldn’t come through if they had looked at the blog first. I also get a lot of pitches where the peg is some kind of month, like national something awareness month. And I don’t think I’ve written a single post pegged to a month or a week, because I think those are essentially fake news pegs that were invented to create fake news.

Name: Jacob Goldstein
Outlet: The Wall Street Journal
Title: Lead writer for the Health Blog
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