The big picture on “non-profit journalism” (well, some of it anyway)

November 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Business Models, Communications strategy, Journalism, Media business, Philanthropy 2.0, Professional ethics, Social media | Leave a comment

Are you as fascinated as I am by the non-profit journalism trend, how foundations and NGOs (broadly defined) are supporting and even becoming journalism operations, and the implications for strategic communications?

Then take a look at NGOs and the News: Exploring a Changing Communications Landscape, a series of essays that Penn’s Annenberg School and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab have put together exploring some of the big-picture issues that such initiatives raise.

The latest essay in the series, by Natalie Fenton of Goldmiths, University of London, was just published and looks at how the internet has changed how NGOs work with established media (her take: “not enough”).

Previous pieces in the series, which began earlier this month and came to my attention through a Big Think post, include:

This series is a useful complement and offers important context for the seemingly daily reports on the fast-evolving non-profit journalism landscape (see Bruce Trachtenberg’s October 20 post on the Communications Network blog for a very helpful oveview).

And added bonus from the Nieman Journalism Lab site —  Jim Barnett weighs in on a planned Dec. 1-2 Federal Trade Commission workshop on how journalism will survive in the Internet age. The bigger question: is two days enough to figure it out? Stay tuned.


Can social media be hazardous to physicians’ (professional) health?

November 13, 2009 at 11:24 am | Posted in Communications strategy, Professional ethics, Regulation, Social media | Leave a comment

Ok, so the headline is intentionally provocative. But while the FDA decides how or whether to weigh in on the use of social media to promote regulated medical products (Reuters and many others covered the two-day event), a run of recent articles and blog postings posit the pluses and minuses of the use of social media by physicians.

This discussion is the latest and a logical extension of the ongoing debate about the benefits and potential risks of any new communications tools used by health and medical professionals. Clinicians, after all, regularly discuss sensitive patient information and are subject to all manner of legal oversight and professional ethics.

We saw a variation of this debate back when the profession mulled whether doctors should advertise, then over the rise of web, physician-patient e-mail, and now blogs, Facebook, Twitter and whatever the next new thing will be. (By the way, a related discussion on the blog Scholarly Kitchen looks at whether scientists are joining social networks and, to the extent that they haven’t, why that might be the case).

The clinician-focused discussion in a nutshell (Medscape has a nice overview on this) – social media tools can be useful ways for clinicians to seek out professional information and opinion, raise professional visibility and stay in touch with communities of interest. But like any technology, clinicians should be aware of possible risks.

Specific caveats (Medical Law Review hits this most explicitly)  — physicians should be mindful of patient confidentiality and not let the seeming informality of social media lull them into straying over professional boundaries – even on closed or “secure” sites. A couple of posts on the physician blog 33Charts nicely summarize some of the issues around doctor-patient interactions via social media. And you can monitor the Clinical Cases and Images blog for ongoing updates about this issue.

This all seems like common sense, certainly. And in many ways, it hearkens back to debates within professional circles about the early days of online communities, discussion boards and the like.

What may be different now is that both professionals and patients/consumers with access are using digital technology in far greater numbers, with far more sophistication, than a few years ago, and the adoption curve for social media tools is especially steep. We’ve also seen the ongoing rise of the “e-patient,” the term the late Tom Ferguson, MD, coined years ago to describe individuals “equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged” in their  health and health care decisions.  A federally sponsored summit earlier in November discussed this trend and its implications in depth.

My favorite take-away from this discussion? The Medscape review noting that, as far as the potential for clinician missteps on social media platforms is concerned, “physicians behaving badly is not a new concept, but for years, the risqué humor, alcohol-fueled hijinks, and derogatory slang in patient charts — think ‘CLL’ for ‘chronic low-life,’ ‘LOBNH’ for ‘lights on but nobody home’ and ‘grave dodger’ to describe a chronically ill elderly patient — have been hidden from view.”  Digital technology, the piece notes, makes it possible for all the world to see such potential bad behavior.

Will the pluses that social media tools present to transform professional and professional-patient/consumer communications outweigh the minuses, real or perceived? I  hope so. But stay tuned.

The more things change….

November 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Communications strategy, Digital strategy, Multimedia, Regulation, Social media | 4 Comments

Add the Food and Drug Administration to the list of those following how social media is transforming communications. In this case, the subject is the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products — including prescription drugs for humans and animals, prescription biologics, and medical devices – “using the Internet and social media tools.”

To gather comment from parties interested in this topic, the FDA has scheduled a public hearing November 12 and 13. There’s plenty of interest – registration for speakers and attendees is closed. You can follow the hearing via a free webcast . The agenda is here.

For those of us old enough to remember, this is especially interesting since we’ve been here before – on October 16 and 17, 1996, to be exact. That’s when FDA held a public hearing “to discuss issues related to the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products on the Internet.” Topics covered at that time included investigational product information, chatrooms and newsgroups (remember those?), and Web site links. The FDA has fired up its wayback machine and helpfully provided a transcript of that meeting.

There was widespread expectation that that hearing would yield specific guidance on using a then-new communications medium to promote, market or just plain discuss regulated medical products. As it turns out, FDA didn’t issue such formal direction, instead advising marketing/communications types to follow existing guidelines, which were developed with print and broadcast in mind. As I recall, the idea was that the net/web, while a new medium, did not necessitate a whole new set of regulations for proper use.

Thirteen years later — an eternity in Internet time — the digital media landscape has changed dramatically, of course, with an explosion of new technologies — particularly social media. But what about the core issues?

The FDA, in its Federal Register posting on the new hearing, has identified five areas to be explored in this latest hearing:

  • For what what online communications are manufacturers, packers or distributors accountable?
  • How can manufacturers, packers, or distributors fulfill regulatory requirements (e.g., fair balance, disclosure of indication and risk information, postmarketing submission requirements) in their Internet and social media promotion, particularly when using tools that are associated with space limitations and/or real-time communications?
  • What parameters should apply to the posting of corrective information on Web sites controlled by third parties?
  • When is the use of links appropriate?
  • Questions specific to Internet adverse event reporting.

All good questions, but when asked in the formalized setting of a public hearing by a regulatory agency, they underscore how policy can lag market/user demand and behavior when it comes to fast-moving developments in communications.

There are other instances of this, of course. For example, Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet and American Life project, one speaker at a meeting I’m attending on consumer health informatics, spoke today about security issues related to the broad adoption of electronic health records.  She noted that the federal law governing health information privacy dates from 1996, barely two years after the Web was born. Final regulations were issued in 2002, but even that date is years removed from the current explosion in the development and use of online medical and health information.

Will the latest FDA hearing on social media raise substantive new issues that prompt the agency to act in any way different than it did more than a decade ago? Stay tuned.

Focus, focus, focus

November 1, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Business Models, Digital strategy, Strategic planning | Leave a comment

The Harvard Business Review recently offered an interesting review of the challenges that philanthropic organizations face in critically analyzing what their strategic goals, how well they’re meeting them, and how to adjust priorities to improve their performance.

The article, entitled “Galvanizing Philanthropy,” is especially timely given the varying degree of organizational review and program juggling that’s been going on at many foundations as a result of the squeeze the recession has put on endowments and portfolios. Note, an HRB subscription is required to see more than an article summary.

Interestingly, say authors Susan Wolf Ditkoff and Susan J. Colby of the non-profit consultants The Bridgespan Group, the challenge to focus based on objective analysis is one that philanthropies face regardless of the economic climate. It’s just that hard times bring things into much sharper relief.

How to best assess foundation performance is something a number of visionary philanthropies and their executives have talked about for a while. When I was running the communications and publishing group at The Commonwealth Fund, for example, this was a favorite topic of EVP/COO John Craig, who spoke and wrote about it extensively. One good example is John’s 2006 essay on assessing a foundation’s performance. He also wrote earlier this year about private foundations’ response to the “new financial realities” the recession rained down upon them.

Philanthropies are in this delicate spot because of the double-edged sword that is the essence of nonprofit, mission-driven organizations, the Harvard Business Review piece notes. These entities, “exempt from the accountability imposed on business by markets or on government by voters, are free to experiment and take risks,” it says. “But they have little experience in objectively evaluating their own performance or figuring out how to improve it.”

To give a sense of how to attack this issue, the authors look at how the James Irvine, Bill & Melinda Gates, Annie E. Casey, David and Lucile Packard, and Edna McConnell Clark Foundations worked to “get real” by focusing on key strategic “anchors” to optimize their resources and outcomes.

Obviously, the more focused a foundation’s overarching strategy, the more focused and potentially high-impact its communications strategy will be.

Thanks to my good friend and former Medscape colleague Mike Squires, now a top-drawer health IT consultant, for drawing my attention to this HBR article.

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