When Carol Ostrom retired from The Seattle Times on Oct. 1, the paper lost one of the Northwest’s most prominent and experienced health reporters. Many wondered if the paper would be able to find someone with the right combination of knowledge, skills and experience – as well as energy – to cover such an important and challenging beat.
But it appears The Seattle Times has found that person. Starting Dec. 1, JoNel Aleccia is the paper’s new full-time health reporter. When we talked with her recently, JoNel said she was “chomping at the bit” to get started. “I’ve got so many stories that I can’t wait to tell,” she said. “That first week I’m going to have to calm myself down a little bit.”
JoNel, 53, has the enthusiasm of a newcomer, but make no mistake: she’s a veteran with chops. Start with more than two decades of experience at newspapers in Washington and Oregon, including 21 years as a reporter, editor and columnist at The Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore., and two years covering health and social services at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
Add to that more than six years as a national health reporter. JoNel made the leap to national reporting in 2008 when she joining msnbc.com – the online partnership of Microsoft and NBC – as a health reporter based in Seattle. When Microsoft pulled out of msnbc.com in 2012, JoNel moved to NBCNews.com and continued to report national health news from Seattle for another two years.
But over time it became clear that NBC planned to centralize editorial operations in New York and reduce staff in Seattle. So JoNel made another leap – this time to Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She joined the communications team at Fred Hutch last summer, following other NBCNews.com veterans such as Jennifer Sizemore, who was named vice president of communications in 2013.
Over the past four months, JoNel reported for the nascent Fred Hutch News Service, which is part of a larger effort within the Hutch to create a newsroom separate from public relations that produces original news content. Among the more interesting stories JoNel reported for the news service was her interview with Andrew Madoff, son of convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, a week before his death in September and more than a year after he had received a stem cell transplant at the Hutch.
Looking ahead, JoNel said she is excited about returning to community journalism at The Seattle Times. “Seattle is still a great town to be a reporter, and the paper is one of the few places where there is still a concentrated group of serious journalists,” she said.
JoNel said her passion is reporting consumer advocacy stories that have an impact on people’s lives. At NBCNews.com, she was one of only a handful of journalists in the country who consistently covered food safety issues such as the salmonella outbreaks associated with Foster Farms. She also reported on faulty products ranging from contaminated medical wipes that led to deaths and injuries in kids to jerky treats made in China that caused death and illness in thousands of dogs in the United States. JoNel said she plans to become a watchdog on food safety and other consumer advocacy issues again at the Times.
We at The Fearey Group look forward to following JoNel’s coverage and wish her the best.