Brian Fung – Associate Editor, The Atlantic
By Susan Lanier
WebMD might have one of the most extensive collections of health and medical-related content on the Internet, but it’s also the cause of many readers’ sleepless nights spent worrying about that elbow rash or frequent headaches which may or may not be a sign of something much worse. And for most, it’s hard to understand the medical jargon anyway.
Brian Fung, the new associate editor overseeing health at The Atlantic, wants to take a different approach on medical writing, through light-hearted and actual substantive information that get readers to think for themselves.
“Getting people to reflect is ultimately what I consider my job,” he said.
With this in mind, Fung focuses primarily on big picture coverage and analysis of national health and healthcare stories. However, with interests ranging from foreign policy and politics to technology, he also hopes to contribute articles when time allows. Mostly, Fung is simply excited about sharing his insights with readers.
“One of the things I love most about my job is sharing new ideas with people. There's a ton of great research being done on things like genetics, memory, and behavior. And passing along those new insights is a great way to spark conversations,” Fung said.
Fung joined The Atlantic in late March, a week after the previous associate editor, Nicholas Jackson, departed for a new position at Outside magazine. “I’ve had to pick things up rather quickly in his absence,” Fung said. “He left some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Those words might sound like an understatement for most young journalists only two short years out of undergrad. Fung graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in political science in 2010. Still, a quick scroll through his resume and there is no doubt that Fung belongs in the prestigious Atlantic newsroom.
Fung is a textbook example of hard work paying off. During his time at Middlebury, he was editor-in-chief of the student paper and an editorial researcher for Foreign Policy magazine. Since then, he has received a master’s degree in international relations from The London School of Economics and Political Science, served as a regular contributor to The Washington Post’s Ideas@Innovation blog and has interned with Talking Points Memo.
Not to mention, he is humble to boot. When asked about how he is making the transition into a big time editorial gig, Fung is quick to thank his new peers. “I'm surrounded by tons of smart and talented people who'll help you out in an instant. So the transition has been really easy thanks to them,” he said.
In addition to more traditional news coverage, Fung is working on building up The Atlantic’s online health presence, and of course, Twitter is the preferable platform.
“Most journalists now would probably point to Twitter as the single most influential new media innovation of the past half-decade. Along with startups like Storify and Instagram, these new tools not only give reporters different ways of telling the story; they also give readers new ways to interpret and understand what's happening,” he said.
Fung has already started working with The Atlantic Health channel’s Twitter account, @TheAtlanticHLTH.
“I'm experimenting with different ways of crafting tweets, though The Atlantic has already established a strong editorial voice on its main account [@TheAtlantic] that works really, really well. I'd love to make @TheAtlanticHLTH a more welcoming, engaging place,” he said.
A quick scroll through the feed and readers will notice a lot of tweets that pose direct questions followed by a link to more in-depth coverage. What better way is there to interact with readers than to simply ask them what they think? And that’s the idea. To start a dialogue, one that Fung is really excited about.
“If you're a follower and you're reading this, let's start a conversation!” he said.
When pitching health coverage to The Atlantic, Fung suggests that releases be firmly based in science.
"We're particularly interested in the scientific aspect of health rather than fitness tips or fad diets," he said. "Things that challenge conventional wisdom are always interesting."
Fung prefers to receive pitches via email and said, "The shorter the emails are, the more likely I am to respond."
Follow Fung on Twitter at @b_fung.
Photo credit: Andrew Ngeow