Headliner: Marjorie Martin of About.com
Marjorie Martin is, by her own admission, "kind of a geek" about medicine. "It just fascinates me," she says. "I'm one of those people who sits down and reads the New England Journal of Medicine cover-to-cover." She'll have plenty to read at About.com, which recently named her to head up its health division.
The appointment comes as About.com, which The New York Times acquired from Primedia last year, is giving its health site a makeover in hopes of improving its standing against competitors like Martin's former employer, WebMD, which leads the field. With 4.9 million unique visitors in March, according to Nielsen Net Ratings, About Health lags WebMD, which drew 22.6 million visitors, and MSN Health, which pulled in 5.7 million, but beats AOL Health (4 million) and Yahoo! Health (2.8 million).
About Health's revamp efforts include making use of emerging media, such as podcasting and broadband video, and showcasing the guides that serve as its public face. “We want people to better understand what incredible, passionate people they're interacting with,” Martin says. The firm is also recruiting new guides, notably in two areas where the firm sees very high user interest—in women's health and heart health, which will be expanded from a single site into several distinct sites covering heart attack, arrhythmia and congestive heart failure.
“If you look at the prevalence of heart disease, it's like half the population,” Martin says. “Someone with an arrhythmia is not looking for the same information as someone with high cholesterol.” Similarly, women are heavy consumers of health information. Martin notes that the site's pregnancy guide, Robin Elise Weiss, has such a loyal following that she allowed readers to name her seventh child. Weiss will be one of four contributors to a forthcoming series of About.com reference books—a sort of “Human Health for Dummies.”
Altogether, Martin hopes to expand the site's topics—currently at 70—by 20%-30%.
About Health launched its first podcast, on heartburn, last month. It's the first of a five-part series on heartburn and GERD, sponsored by AstraZeneca (which gets sponsorship tags but no editorial control in exchange, says Martin).
Advertising-wise, Martin says her sales team will focus on beefing up sales to pharmas and consumer packaged goods makers. About.com advertisers are more diverse than those on other health sites, she says, due to About's relationship with Google.
Martin got her start in journalism as an intern at CNN, back in the heady early days of cable news. For a time, she ran the teleprompter for Bernard Shaw—a more combative assignment than you might think. “He would grab this arsenal of things on his desk and throw them at you if you were going too fast or too slow,” says Martin, who soon graduated to field producer, before becoming head of CNN's health coverage.
“It was a good place to start, because it taught me to think on my feet,” says Martin. Cable news was in its infancy when she joined CNN, long before the first Gulf War made the network a household name. Online news and information was similarly embryonic when she made the move to WebMD in 1998, shortly after CNN's absorption by AOLTimeWarner. She joined as managing editor, launching the site's editorial operation, and gradually took on responsibility for all consumer-facing site content.
An avid amateur shutterbug, Martin is transitioning to New York from Atlanta with her husband, a lawyer. She's used to moving around a lot, having grown up with a restless company man father who shuttled the family from Texas across the Eastern Seaboard.
Her photography hobby complements her love of travel, which recently took her to South Africa on safari. “I finally got into the digital world a year ago, and I'm still trying to figure out how to use it,” she says, referring to a newish camera, not the Internet. She's got that one down pat.
General manager, health, About.com
WebMD—From managing editor to VP in charge of all site content
CNN—From intern to executive producer for medical news