Inside Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ robust newsroom

More than a standard brand journalism endeavor, Coverage cranks out invigorating content geared to help readers live full, healthy lives.

Health care news printed on an old typewriter with heart beat pulse sketch

Health care in the U.S. can be a confounding labyrinth.

Amid a flurry of shifting policies, rules and regulations—and a cacophony of conflicting health advice—where’s a confused consumer to turn? Enter Coverage, a nonprofit news site launched in October 2019 by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts with help from Ragan Consulting Group.

With timely articles on topics such as coronavirus prevention and genetic testing as well as emotion-packed storytelling on aging or battling cancer—the site offers a wealth of well-rounded wellness content.

“The goal of our site is to clarify complex issues in health care, with empathy for the perspectives of health care consumers,” says Jay McQuaide, chief communications and corporate citizenship officer for Blue Cross..

The site is much more than a traditional corporate newsroom. Coverage’s engaging brand journalism endeavor is fueled by a strong lineup—including five staff writers and an impressive team of freelance contributors—all of whom produce “reporting with eloquence, empathy and clarity” on complex issues that often go woefully underreported.

It seems to be working. Jennifer Miller, managing editor of Coverage, says it took just three months for Coverage’s traffic to outpace their former newsroom’s total 2019 web hits, “including all press releases and our annual report,” she adds.

Coverage cites Gerry Chiaro, a lecturer in media and marketing communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to explain its storytelling approach: “There have never been more ways to reach customers, but it’s never been harder to connect with them. How do you connect with a customer so the story you’re trying to tell has real meaning for them and benefits their lives in some way?”

Coverage strikes a healthy balance between informational and inspirational stories, which have been picked up by university news sites and external outlets. Harvard University’s newsroom picks up of Coverage’s columns on climate change, and this post on end-of-life care was featured by The Conversation Project. A partnership with African American physicians has garnered strong social media attention.

How to keep brand journalism momentum going

If you’re considering launching a brand journalism effort of your own, you’ll need investment, executive buy-in and commitment to a long-haul effort. Of course, it’s also crucial to monitor and measure as you go.

To gauge progress, Miller’s team closely tracks newsletter subscriptions, unique visitors to the site, page views and social media engagement. Analyzing that data gives the team insights into what sorts of content resonate with readers.

Beyond analytics, Miller cites loftier goals that exceed mere metrics: “We are proud to be raising our company’s profile as a thought leader in health care. And our stories help our readers understand health complex issues, which we hope will ultimately result in improved health..”

As for future goals, Miller says her team is proud to make all Coverage content available for Creative Commons republication to ensure “physicians, patients, lawmakers, community leaders and everyone else to have free access to our stories.” She also foresees adding a podcast.

Why should other communicators consider a brand journalism initiative? Miller sums it up: “Traditional media outlets are shrinking, but the appetite for news is not. There is a hunger for clear, fact-based, engaging content. Talented corporate communicators can help meet that need.”

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