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Health News names bureau chief

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2/3/2010 © Health News Florida

When the Florida Legislature convenes next month, Jim Saunders will be there to cover it, as he has for the past dozen years. But this time, he’ll be covering it for Health News Florida.

Saunders, Tallahassee bureau chief for The Daytona Beach News-Journal,  will join Health News Florida on Feb. 15, the news service announced today. His title will be Capital Bureau Chief.

Saunders, 44, will be Health News Florida’s second full-time employee. The other is founder and editor Carol Gentry, who is based in St. Petersburg.

“This is a great move for Health News Florida and Jim,” said Dave Royse, editor of The News Service of Florida, a subscription service that covers state government. “Jim is conscientious, experienced and will do a great job.”

Until now, all of Health News Florida’s original reporting was done either by Gentry or by free-lancers, chiefly Christine Jordan Sexton in Tallahassee. She has begun working part-time for a new Tallahassee-based media start-up called The Florida Tribune, but has said she will continue free-lancing part-time for Health News Florida.

Several others work part-time for the news service in Tallahassee: Executive Director Ben Wilcox, Marketing/Advertising Director Mary Frederick, and intern Julie Mann.

Health News Florida is fortunate to have someone with Jim’s talent and experience serving as our Tallahassee bureau chief,” said Wilcox, who has known Saunders for many years. “Jim knows the ins and outs of state government and how it shapes health care policy in Florida.”

Health News Florida was able to hire a second full-time journalist because of a $302,000, two-year grant awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in December.

“We’re grateful to the Knight Foundation for making this milestone possible,” said Lisa Portelli, president of the Health News Florida board. “We’re excited about expanding coverage of state issues that affect the health of all Floridians.”

Health News Florida was launched in March 2007 as a non-profit journalism pilot project with the aim of sustaining coverage of issues that was disappearing with the thinning of newsrooms and the capital press corps. (It began as Florida Health News but changed names last year.) 

The five-day-a-week online publication now has about 4,000 subscribers and nearly 3,000 Twitter followers. Last month, according to Google Analytics, there were about 24,500 visits and 42,000 page-views. The Associated Press now distributes some of Health News Florida's original articles to newspapers around the state, and Kaiser Health News, a non-profit news service out of Washington, D.C., picks up its articles for its national news service.

The Knight grant matches support from the Florida Health Policy Center, a coalition of health foundations around the state. One of the members, Health Foundation of South Florida, is the recipient of the Knight grant on behalf of the news service.

Before joining the News-Journal, Saunders was Tallahassee bureau chief for The Florida Times-Union, after being a metro reporter for the Jacksonville newspaper. Earlier, he worked as a reporter for The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Susan, and daughter, Olivia.