Geneva Health Files

The story of an inter-disciplinary, investigative reporting initiative in the capital of global health

How It Came To Be

As an independent journalist, I had weathered the vicissitudes of freelance reporting for many years. While reporting on global health (when no one was looking), I often found that crucial policy debates in Geneva had little space in mainstream media. To break out of these constraints, the prospect of investigating these technical matters and publishing for a specialized readership was a dream I had long nurtured.

Come 2020, the pandemic drew the world’s attention to Geneva. This relatively quiet Swiss city has been a dynamic ecosystem where private and public interests collide in sequestered settings of international organizations away from media glare. Up until now. As the capital of global health, Geneva is home to more than 200 different organizations associated with the framing of international health policy.

The pandemic became a personal inflection point which compelled me to become a publisher. As a reporter, I was seized by the moment when I realized the historic importance of witnessing events at the absolute forefront of global health, in those early days of the pandemic. Years of working independently had honed my editorial decision-making and I felt confident.

I started self-publishing in April 2020 as COVID-19 raged across the world — unbounded by the policies crafted in Geneva by a range of global health actors. Under these unusual circumstances, I set out to tell stories unfolding in Geneva to readers I had acquired over the years and in the process, reached many more.

Geneva Health Files was born. This was an idea long germinating in draft business plans, in conversations with interested experts, but really came into existence when health policy began dominating global headlines. I simply had to go ahead and start telling these stories in the way only I could and the way I cared. Global health was (and is) undergoing seismic changes and this needed to be documented in a systematic, thorough manner.

We went on to tell the most important stories of pandemic-related policy-making, in-depth and in real-time.

The newsletter on Substack

The Product

Geneva Health Files is an investigative, inter-disciplinary, reporting initiative which tries to capture the power and politics in global health from the lens of science, trade, economics and governance. This niche journalistic initiative reaches a readership comprising policymakers, academics and interested experts in global health through a bi-weekly newsletter which offers distinct curation and an investigative analysis every single week. Its mission is not only to bring diverse perspectives to global health journalism, but to also contribute towards greater accountability and transparency in global health by honest, rigorous reporting.

I began self-publishing on a Wordpress site which I effectively set up overnight. Subsequently, within a few months, I switched to Substack to reach readers through a newsletter. Now, 10 months since we began, Geneva Health Files has published more than 50 comprehensive analyses including on global health governance, WHO reforms, vaccine politics and pandemic-related trade policy discussions at WTO. Our unique blended approach to reporting that combines health, trade and politics, helps our readers see the big picture while being totally immersed in the details.

This is how it looks

Our Impact

In less than a year, we have made space for ourselves as a source of critical and consistent reporting that readers trust and value. As a result, a small but distinct community has begun to engage and emerge. Our reportage has found way into the syllabus of masters programs and it has been cited in academic literature. We have spoken with governments, auditors and civil society organizations who have reached out to us for our critical perspective gleaned from our regular reporting on matters of global health in Geneva. We have also been told that our reporting has contributed to the positions of countries negotiating on COVID-19 policies, for example. We are grateful for these opportunities to contribute and to also learn from this influential group of experts.

I say “we” because, although it is practically a one-person newsroom, the initiative does not exist in a vacuum. A community of readers, supporters, sources, friends and family shape it continuously.

As of February 2021

  • We have a respectable base of subscribers and have healthy open rates for our newsletters.
  • Geneva Health Files has been invited to contribute to discussions on various forums.
  • We have also authored papers and won grants during this brief period.
  • The work of Geneva Health Files also helped us partner with a high-quality cross-border investigation team in the European Union region.

The biggest endorsement, perhaps, came in the form of a reader, who decided to volunteer her time for Geneva Health Files because she is convinced of the importance of such an initiative.

A recent paper we authored which builds on our reportage

Joining a CUNY Cohort

The CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program has been instrumental and decisive in not only shaping editorial strategies, but has also led me to ask tough questions on the viability of a media product. The instructors groomed us to think on commercial terms and helped us understand the trade-offs that journalism entrepreneurs need to make. In the course of the last few months, we have conducted surveys to understand readership better, thought hard about operations, funding, long-term viability and in articulating the lofty aspirations of such an initiative. The fellow cohorts in this program contributed to an enriched non-linear learning process.

Next Steps

Geneva Health Files intends to become a paid service, in order to be financially sustainable. Getting our readers to pay for our original reporting is a litmus test that could influence the future of this initiative. Apart from paid subscriptions from readers, the goal is to diversify revenues to include grants, advertising, partnerships to ensure the sustainability of Geneva Health Files in the medium to long term.

It has been an exhilarating, all-consuming experience in running this journalistic initiative. To be sure, it has been extremely challenging to be on top of the editorial product in a relentless news cycle, while also working on the nuts and bolts of operationalising a media initiative. It also meant working on strategy, marketing, branding, promotion — often, nearly all at the same time. Media entrepreneurship, from my limited experience, means you are the CEO, the chief product officer, the chief design officer, the strategist, the accountant, the HR, the editor, the reporter, the fact-checker, the headline-writer, all rolled into one.

Reporting on global health from Geneva during a pandemic has been humbling — a privilege to write and question.

About me

I am an independent journalist based in Switzerland. I am the Founding Editor of Geneva Health Files — a reporting initiative which tracks power and politics that shape international health policy. In my more than 15 years in journalism I have worked in Geneva, New York and New Delhi reporting on global health, illicit financial flows and public finance. Outside of journalism, I have worked at a United Nations public health agency. My qualifications include degrees in development studies, economics, and life sciences. I grew up and worked in India, moved to the United States to study and later to Switzerland where I now live.

Contact

Patnaik.reporting@gmail.com

Subscribe

genevahealthfiles.substack.com/subscribe

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