YLS Spotlight: Andie Burjek

Andie Burjek Headshot web1
Andie Burjek

Andie Burjek is one of the winners of ASBPE’s Young Leaders Scholarship award in 2020. She is an associate editor with Workforce, and she reports and write about benefits and health.

How did you get involved in the business?

I started out at Human Capital Media as an intern in August 2015 and was asked to go full-time in June 2016. While I did not imagine myself at a business publication as a journalism student at UW-Madison, I’m happy I ended up on this path. I have a lot of pride about my editorial team and my contributions to Workforce magazine. The longer I’ve been an associate editor, the more I’ve realized where my journalistic passions lie: writing about health and health care.

As a benefits reporter, I’ve gotten the chance to talk to experts with diverting opinions, gain expertise on health-related workplace issues and become confident that I’ll continue to gain credibility as someone whose journalism employers can trust. I don’t aim to just tell them what they want to hear in my writing. I like getting the chance to write about controversial topics, like how wellness programs are generally not effective. While vendor studies show impressive results of these programs, neutral parties like academic research show that wellness programs have no real impact on employees’ health or overall health care costs.

Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years

Where I see myself in five to 10 years is a difficult question because, while I’ve had the chance to take on some managerial tasks over the past three years, I love the part of my associate editor job that allows me to create content and read about health care every day. I like certain managerial tasks like mentoring interns, editing freelancers’ articles and discussing long-term strategy with my editor. But ultimately, I look up to the career of Vox’s Sarah Kliff as something as a goal: a reporter with long-term investigative or research-heavy projects that have the potential to open people’s eyes.

As Vox’s health care reporter, Kliff addresses major health care trends like surprise billing and the limitations of association health plans. She also does an impressive amount of research, [which is] one of my favorite parts of my job. I would like to stay in the business reporting space for the foreseeable future, use that time to hone in on a very specific area of coverage (probably mental health care) and become the go-to reporter for employers who want a well-rounded story.

What are the top challenges editors face today? What are possible solutions to those challenges?

One of the first challenges that comes to mind is the reality of writing for a print magazine in 2019: It’s not profitable by itself. A company needs other sources of revenue. That’s especially true for Workforce, which HR professionals can get for free. Human Capital Media does a lot to address this, and I appreciate how proactive the company is. Our other revenue streams include the research, events and webinars departments, and we partner with them as much as possible to create good content and make a profit.

More personally, something that I find questionable about business writing is when publications try to be too trendy. I understand that dissecting current events can be useful, but other times it comes across as clickbait. For example, the “OK, Boomer” trend that got blown out of proportion. What should have stayed a silly meme got overanalyzed to death in articles whose headlines had as many trendy words in their titles as possible. Similarly, the obsession with generations is a trap I see a lot, even though research shows that millennials are about the same as baby boomers were at the same age. It’s the cyclical “kids these days!” argument that keeps on getting recycled throughout the generations. Still, I get a dozen pitches a day about “how to recruit millennials” or “what millennials really want in their benefits package.” While I understand the need for clicks, I don’t enjoy when something gets more attention than it deserves, especially when there are other issues out there that deserve more attention.

One more challenge that I see is something that applies to anyone reporting on health care, both in business publications and outside them. If you’ve ever gone down the deep rabbit hole of health care reporting, you know it’s often full of hyperbolic reporting, outrageous overgeneralizations and misleading study results that are, in reality, much more nuanced. I’m talking about news stories about how chocolate and red wine are good for your health! Drinking coffee can cause cancer … no wait, it helps prevent cancer! My goal as a health and benefits reporter is to be skeptical about what surveys are legitimate to use in a story and be thoughtful about how I describe survey results. This wasn’t the case when I started this job, but over the years I’ve tried to be more mindful about it. Big picture, what I think could help this issue is if journalists get trained about this early in their careers, and if editors look out for cases of hyperbolic health reporting like this. I don’t know how realistic this is—after all, news programs, magazines and websites use the “Big Scary Study” headlines specifically to get attention—but I do think it’s ultimately the responsible thing to do.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor and primarily writes about benefits and health. She attended Journalism School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she has been writing for Human Capital Media for four years. Some topics of interest for her are health data and data privacy; genetic testing and genetic discrimination; and mental health care in employer health plans.

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