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Taking it Personally - 8/9/2016 -

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Mark A. Newman

Exploring how first-person tales from members can breathe new life — and sometimes increase online traffic — into niche association magazines.

By Mark A. Newman

One of the final sessions that wrapped up AM&P Annual Meeting 2016 turned out to be one of the most useful ones for me because it provided a variety of options on how to get your members to be willing participants in your association’s publication. Titled, "Making it Personal with First-Person Essays,” this session was loaded with practical advice for getting your members to write for your magazine, website, newsletter, etc.

The panel of experts on this topic were all from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) — Communications Director Angela Hopp, Managing Editor Lauren Dockett, Chief Science Correspondent Raj Mukhopadhyay, and Print & Digital Media Specialist Allison Frick — and they all had a great deal of experience in dealing with their association’s membership, which is largely made up of a variety of research scientists. If you think these brainiacs are a bunch of dry, boring academics, you would be sadly mistaken.

The panel discussed the various venues that were available for ASBMB members to tell their stories, both online as well as in the association’s monthly magazine, ASBMB Today. One of the salient points the team made was to have a variety of options where the articles could appear. This variety is helpful to coax members out of their shells because it’s more than likely that they will realize that they do indeed have a story to tell, especially if it falls within a specific category.

For example, who couldn’t contribute a piece about overcoming adversity? "Derailed but Undeterred” did just that as members flooded the editorial team’s inboxes with their own tales of how they beat the odds, whether it was in their professional careers or in their personal lives. Hopp spoke a little about the authors’ concerns about imposter syndrome, a phenomenon coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, that refers to high-achievers "marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Hopp added that it disproportionately affects ASBMB’s membership to a degree, but these avenues give the members a chance to share their experiences and let younger members know "everything is okay.”

The Derailed but Undeterred column proved so inspiring that members freely wrote about a variety of experiences, from the sudden onslaught of a debilitating illness and dealing with the stress associated with the rigors of scientific research to escaping the horrors of Sierra Leone while witnessing murder, rape, and amputations in an effort to get to New York City. Such gut-wrenching and honest stories don’t just increase member/reader engagement, they can inspire others, especially early-career members.

Another, even more personal, format is the Open Letters column, which enables a member to write an open letter to either someone who affected their lives in some way or just to express an opinion, thought, or feeling without it being an official editorial. Past members have written to specific professors who helped them in their studies, shared thoughts on spirituality, and one member actually used this forum as a method to come out and reveal the hardships of being gay in a traditional Indian culture.

Another forum – Hobbies – allowed members to share photos and stories of their passions outside of the research lab and away from the bench. This is an ideal way to get members to really put themselves out there and show a side of themselves that their colleagues may not get to see in research facilities or at conferences. (Then again, the ASBMB member who fronted an AC/DC cover band could likely get a gig to entertain at the next annual conference.)

My Take Away

When I attend conferences such as AMP 2016, the Folio: Show, etc., I don’t find the sessions particularly useful unless I can walk away from them with information that I can put into practice right away. Thankfully, the ASBMB panel from "Making it Personal” provided me with a lot of ideas to build upon.

As interesting and intriguing as these ideas all were, I wasn’t sure that they would work as well for the membership of the Endocrine Society for use in Endocrine News, our feature magazine. Endocrine News is sent to more than 18,000 members around the world. The membership consists of three constituencies: physicians, clinical scientists, and basic researchers. We also publish a number of technical peer-reviewed journals.

However, since the Endocrine Society is celebrating 100 years in 2016, we have instituted a new monthly column called "Why Endocrinology?” where our members tell why they chose this particular field of science. This column was based on a feature of the same name that ran in March 2015, which received more reader response than any article the magazine has published before or since. This reiterates the ASBMB panel’s idea that members are interested in telling their personal stories. Moreover, members are interested in reading those stories; it gives them a chance to reflect on their own careers, choices, mentors, etc.

Endocrine News also has another way for members to tell their stories, but in a practical, feature-length way. Last fall, we instituted First Person articles, which allow members to tell their stories regarding a specific topic from their hands-on perspectives. In the inaugural article, an endocrinologist wrote about his experience using tele-medicine to consult with other doctors and specialists in rural New Mexico. Two months later, another member wrote about her life-changing experience as part of the Endocrine Society’s Ambassador Exchange Program, which allowed her to work as a practicing endocrinologist in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an experience that had a profound effect on her and the way she practices medicine in Wyoming.

To capitalize on these personal tales from members, I am hoping to institute even more member-derived content going forward. For example, I would like to start pursuing some of the more controversial topics in the world of endocrinology — and there is a plethora — with a column called Second Opinion, which will act as an opinion piece where two endocrinologists will write about their opposing views on a single topic.

I would also like to get the opinions and comments of professionals outside of endocrinology with a column called Peer Review, which would essentially let professionals in other areas of medicine discuss why endocrinology and endocrinologists matter so much to their own line of work or field of study. I also hope to get members involved with writing book reviews and other pieces that would interest our membership.

So I have to admit that I left the AMP 2016 with new ideas to engage Endocrine News readers with more stories from their fellow Endocrine Society members. And while some of the topics from the stellar ASBMB panel might not work well for our membership, it inspired me to venture out and find topics that would be perfectly suited for our diverse readers and members around the world.

Mark A. Newman is the editor of Endocrine News published by the Endocrine Society in Washington, DC. He is a two-time Neal Award winner, a three-time ASME Award winner, and the first place winner of the Jackson, Alabama, Fire Prevention Essay Contest in 1982.


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