Rita Rubin joined the staff of USA Today in 1998 from US News & World Report. She acts as a general assignment medical reporter for the newspaper with most of her coverage focusing on issues relating to drug safety and women's and reproductive health. She spoke to Jaimy Lee about why she's using Twitter and the importance in knowing who funds a medical study.
PRWeek: What trend stories are you looking at right now?
Rubin: I'm really interested in genetic screening and genetic testing. There are so many stories to be done. I'm always interested in stories that aren't strictly medical science stories, that are a little more complex, that may raise ethical questions [or] economic questions.
PRWeek: Where do you get most of your story ideas?
Rubin: I love to look at pitches I get from medical schools, from research centers, from big hospitals, that are involved in the research. I keep my eye on what's coming out in the major medical journals. The biggest stories we do in USA Today are the cover stories and those are the only ones that jump. We also, in the Life section, have a full page without ads on which we'll run a feature.
PRWeek: Given the focus on ethical issues with medical studies, has that changed your approach in covering them in recent years?
Rubin: Everybody is wondering: Who funded this study? And what kind of ties the authors may have to companies that have a vested interest in the findings? I would like to think it's mentioned as a footnote on the papers when they're published, but that's not always the case. When I'm looking for people to comment, I often find those people through PubMed. Some bring it up themselves.
PRWeek: How has social media influenced the types of stories you work on or even the way you report on stories?
Rubin: I was the sole writer for the health blog that we used to have for five months. I enjoyed doing the blog but I really missed writing stories for the paper. I do like to report and I didn't want to just be directing blog readers to other people's stories. I did like the immediate feedback that I would get from readers.
I guess a happy medium is I've been having fun on Twitter and it's really been forcing me to stay on top of what other news organizations are doing. I've noticed that the British papers seem to have a lot more health coverage than the US. I've really been engaging in conversations – who knew you could do that on Twitter? – with people. I know a lot of my followers are in public relations. I hope that people will think of me if they see I tweeted something. It means I'm interested in the subject and it might be something I'd be pursuing.
PRWeek: You mentioned genetic testing. Any other health stories you're going to be focusing on in the next year?
Rubin: Drug safety is always something I'm very interested in. I'm looking at… the new administration and the FDA. I still have an ongoing interest in reproductive health and C-sections.
PRWeek: So much of health news has focused on healthcare reform recently. How does that impact what you cover?
Rubin: So many of the stories have been political stories – things covered by our Washington reporters – and until there's anything solid, it almost seems like that makes more sense to me.