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Dec. 8, 2020, 11:20 a.m.
Reporting & Production

ADDitude Magazine’s service journalism fills in the gap in attention deficit coverage

“There isn’t much health content that isn’t either turgid, professional, journal-based or superficial. Our goal was to write service content that’s readable, but stays true to the fact that this is a serious condition.”

Coronavirus has made it abundantly clear that health journalism is essential to our lives. The next few years will present the news industry with several opportunities and challenges to cover the physical, mental, and emotional tolls that the pandemic has taken on us.

How can journalists provide news consumers with the information they need that’s factual and reliable, but doesn’t get so into the weeds of the science that the stories become inaccessible?

For ADDitude Magazine, a publication that solely focuses on attention deficit disorders (ADHD and ADD), editor Susan Caughman says the key is making sure the journalism is always in service of the reader.

The late Ellen Kingsley, a former ABC News consumer medical reporter, founded ADDitude Magazine as a website in 1998 with a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Kingsley was struggling to find information about how to help her son who had been diagnosed with ADHD. She launched the print edition of the magazine in 2000 and Caughman took it over in 2003 before Kingsley passed away from breast cancer.

The starting price for a one-year print subscription is $19.95. ADDitude also offers a digital subscription that gives subscribers access to PDF versions of the print magazine, an invite to a subscriber-only iOS app, and other membership privileges. A print and digital subscription bundles the two. All the content on the website, however, is free for anyone to read.

“From the outset, we have had the principle that the content should be service content, but that takes the condition seriously,” Caughman said. “There isn’t much health content that isn’t either turgid, professional, journal-based or superficial. Our goal was to write service content that’s that’s readable, but stays true to the fact that this is a serious condition.”

Caughman is right in the sense that while local, regional, and national outlets often employ health reporters, there are few editorially independent news publications that focus on a specific health issue to produce consumer-based journalism. Others include Spectrum News, which covers autism, and A Sweet Life Magazine, which covers diabetes. (If there are more, please let me know).

ADDitude’s website aims to be a one-stop shop for just about anything you’d want to know about living with ADHD. Aside from its news sections that offers reporting on new studies and developments, ADDitude offers symptom checkers developed and vetted by health professionals; a treatment section for natural and medicinal ADHD remedies; resources for parenting children with ADHD; resources for adults with ADHD; a section for clinicians and educators; and a podcast. The stories are easy to read, and written in simple language. They deliver on what the headlines promise. There’s no flowery prose or irrelevant anecdotes. Readers come away with the information they came looking for.

ADDitude regularly conducts readership surveys to make sure it’s providing content that readers actually want to see and find beneficial. The results of the most recent readership survey found that out of 2,589 respondents, more than 1,800 were feeling worried or anxious nine months into the pandemic. The mental health of the ADHD community has deteriorated, from adults being unable to refill Adderall prescriptions to parents of children with ADHD struggling with Zoom school and depression in their children.

Even before the pandemic, Caughman said she often heard from readers, foreign and domestic, thanking the staff for their work and for providing stories that fill an information gap. In 2019, the website had averaged 2.5 million users per month from all over the world as well as 675,000 email subscribers to its 10 newsletters. ADDitude’s podcast had 1.8 million downloads in 2019.

“We don’t want to be glib, we don’t pathologize ADHD, we don’t want to treat it too lightly, we don’t want to stigmatize it, but just try to stay in the zone of how an ADHD person feels and thinks,” Caughman said. “I don’t really understand why there isn’t more health writing that does this. I feel confident that it could be done for multiple sclerosis or depression. [There could be] a deep site that expresses really what people who live with that condition are feeling, and how they’re living.”

What really changed the game for ADDitude, Caughman said, was launching the webinar program, which allows experts to delve into specific topics related to ADHD. They discuss what the issue is, what it might feel like, the science behind it, and solutions when relevant. Caughman said that when ADDitude first launched the program in the early 2010s, the first webinar was very low-key and on Facebook Live. Nearly 30,000 people tuned in and the stream crashed. Only then did the staff begin to understand the demand for their work.

“We stay closely in touch with our readers. We try to understand how they feel and write in a way that is empathetic, and when we don’t, we hear from them,” Caughman said. “We get 500 questions on any given webinar, so you can see what people are thinking, how they’re expressing their concerns, what their issues are, and we make sure to speak in the way that it identifies with the way they feel.”

Caughman is particularly proud of the fact that ADDitude covers topics that are under-covered in ADHD news, like symptoms in women and emotional dysregulation.

“I have never thought about us consciously writing in a way that would be accessible to people with ADHD,” Caughman said. “I thought what we were doing was just good principles of journalism. We’re taking service journalism, but we’re translating it to a way that speaks to people in the life that they’re living, in their language, on their terms.”

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash.

POSTED     Dec. 8, 2020, 11:20 a.m.
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