Lessons in self-publishing in 2020

Newsletter Edition #18

Dear Readers,

Best wishes for 2021. We look forward to learning from you in the coming year.

As this humbling year comes to a close tonight, we have taken the time in reflecting and putting together our experiences of launching and running Geneva Health Files. We are happy to share this with you.

A special shout out to my numerous sources, and so many readers who have financially contributed this year. It has encouraged us when the going has been tough. 

We have now decided to offer two newsletters a week starting in January 2021. So beginning next week you will hear from us twice a week with curated content on Tuesdays, and on Fridays, you will receive an exclusively reported in-depth story from us. We are keen on delivering greater value to our readers and to also keep up with the relentless news cycle which deserves greater analysis.

Depending on the response to this bi-weekly newsletter format, we will fine-tune our editorial strategy going forward. Thank you for taking the time to communicate with us. We are paying attention to what you have to say.  

Geneva Health Files needs to be sustainable, and to do so, this initiative needs a more dependable source of income. In order to continue providing essential, deeply reported stories capturing the changes in global health policy-making, we will soon urge you, our readers, to pay for our content which you have found to be of value.

Thank you for being with us on this exciting journey in 2020. This is just the beginning.    

I will also take the opportunity to thank my spouse, the first investor in Geneva Health Files who has helped me in bringing these stories to you every week including by making dinner, putting up with my untimely reporting calls and by being a critical sounding board. My wonderful toddler also tremendously helped me by going to bed early, so that I could write! Finally, my gratitude to my colleague Kaitlyn who kept me going despite her numerous commitments.   

Greetings from all of us. See you next week in 2021.



  • Write to us: patnaik.reporting@gmail.com or genevahealthfiles@protonmail.com

  • Follow us on Twitter: @filesgeneva & @pretpat

Support Geneva Health Files

1. Lessons in self-publishing in 2020

We give you a glimpse of what it has been like inside Geneva Health Files. Hope you find this interesting. Write to us with your comments!

The Geneva Health Files newsroom: Image credit: Priti Patnaik

In April 2020, I started self-publishing. What follows are notes on what I learned through out this year.

(in no particular order of importance)

Listen to what people are saying and what they are not saying.

Make your own judgement and editorial call on what is important – not only dictated by the news cycle.

Timing is king, but do not kill yourself with unrealistic deadlines.

While making complex trade offs between “timing” and analysis - publishing early usually wins.

Improve style. Get sub-editors.

Think about nuances deeply.

Think from a reader’s perspective.

Do sport. Every week.

Write, edit, rewrite and write again.

Use pictures. Always.

Talk to sources across the board.

Bust your bubbles and assumptions. Stay open to surprises – the magic of journalism.

Refrain from carving a narrative when there isn’t one. 

Read every relevant document you can lay your hands on. And more.

Test your hypothesis.

Write down story ideas and make connections between them.

Ask improbable questions.

Chase institutions for answers.

If there are competing priorities in a day, god save you. But take a moment to decide why one story may be more important than another for your readers on that day.

Liaise with other editors.

Work with other reporters.

As far as possible, publish asap.

Be humble in accepting error in news judgement.

Seek help, in general.

Get a sounding board.

Link to competitors. It makes text richer.

Don’t be upset if big media does not link to your exclusives.

Do not take yourself too seriously.

Promote your work and then promote some more.

Talk to people outside of global health.

Double check science facts when writing on technical matters

Have funny conversations with sources. Life is passing by after all.

Reach out to mentors. Bug them.

Annoy sources if you must.

Do not disturb sources without reason.

Listen to your intuition and then sleep over it. Don’t act on intuition immediately.

Bust your optimism.

Tone down cynicism.

Reach out to less quoted experts / sources.

Do not take it personally when experts do not wish to speak to you.

Be brave.

Be bullish.

Don’t be shy.

Asking money to make reporting possible is necessary.

Pay your bills, chart your expenses.

Check every link and every fact. And recheck.

Write shorter if possible.

Talk to other reporters. 

Tweet less.

Read more, write less.

Report more, read less.

Think more, write less.

Write enough to learn.

Sleep more.

Sleep over a copy. And edit again.

Make headlines better.

Don’t publish when hungry or tired.

Go on nature walks.

Do not work on weekends, if you can.

Beware of mansplainers and online bullies.

Look at the sky.

Analyses means one can never be the first one. And it is ok.

Thank sources.

Always thank readers.

2. What we found interesting this week:


“…This year has been a roller coaster — a challenging, humbling and painful time because of the suffering and deaths worldwide. I am proud of many things my team has achieved in the past 12 months, even as the shortcomings of both the WHO and the global community have been laid bare.”

“…The one thing I’m proudest of is the setting up by the R&D blueprint team of a multi-country, adaptive clinical trial to test multiple treatments at once. This format adds or removes trialled therapeutic agents as new data emerge, while continuing to recruit participants. The original thought was that some drugs already approved for other diseases might be repurposed as treatments for COVID-19. Interim results from 12,000 participants from 30 countries have been disappointing, with none of the tested drugs showing reductions in mortality or disease progression (WHO Solidarity Trial Consortium N. Engl. J. Med. https://doi.org/ghnhnw; 2020). But the approach has shown how to perform high-quality randomized clinical trials to assess potential drugs and answer public-health questions even during a pandemic. I hope we can learn from this and try a similar approach soon for diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer….”

Dr Sowmya Swaminathan in Nature.

“Zhang Zhan, 37, the first such person known to have been tried, was among a handful of people whose firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic epicentre than the official narrative.”

“We’ll participate in your trials, we’ll manufacture your vaccines, but we don’t know if we’ll get access,” Ms. Hassan said.”

“…Barasa believes his field of health economics has much to offer the pandemic response, which entails making life-or-death investment deci­sions quickly, with limited information…”

… “But over time, it became clear to him that instead of spending thousands of dollars on ventilators, which only a few Kenyans would need, it would be wiser to in­vest in pulse oximeters. These devices mea­sure blood oxygen levels and can be used to determine which COVID-19 patients need supplemental oxygen—insights that benefit many more patients than ventilators.”


3. We are also watching:

The fall-out and follow up on some of these key stories:


Leave a comment

Support this independent global health journalism initiative. Regular donations are crucial in order to sustain the production of Geneva Health Files.

Support Geneva Health Files