Cold Leads

Thanks to a grueling, but rewarding course in graduate-level Mass Communication Theory (JRMC 8010), the American Psychological Association (APA) will always be synonymous with a style of academic citation that I find unnecessarily confusing.

But an assignment in my Health and Medical Journalism course offers me graver view of the APA. The assignment was to write a 700-word article about what patients need to know about talk therapy for depression. We were working with an editor from WebMD, and our assignments needed to be in the style of article that would appear on the website. I have to be careful about what I reveal about the assignment because everything about WebMD, including instructions for writing at a fifth-grade reading level, are proprietary.

What I can say (I think) is that I needed two expert psychologist to be sources for this story. I immediately went to the APA website to find their public affairs contact information. It was a bank holiday so I left a message. A few days later, I managed to get public affairs representative who promised to send me a list of names of prominent psychologists who had agree to talk with the press.

There were eight names. I Googled them all to figure out who knew what and how to reach them. One of the people no longer worked for the clinic the list said he did. He had quit at least five years prior, according to the woman I spoke with on the phone.

I was having hard time finding another name, one listed as W. Alonso from Cambridge, Mass. After several tries with the name, I finally came up with Anne W. Alonso—and an obituary. Dr. Alonso, a well-respected psychologist at Harvard and Mass General, died in 2007 http://www.fa.hms.harvard.edu/about-our-faculty/memorial-minutes/a/anne-alonso/. APA had sent me a name for someone who had been dead for seven years.

In the end, I wasn’t able to interview any of the names on the list—most ignored my emails and phone calls completely, and others begged out, saying they didn’t have time or weren’t experts on the topic I was writing about. But APA did give me some help. The Meninger Clinic in Houston, which no longer employed the psychologist on my APA list, did offer me another expert, allowing me to complete the assignment with an hour or so to spare.

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