STAT, now more than a year old, launches a subscription service for industry obsessives

The world's deadliest motorcycle race. The Amazon of drug trafficking. The future of genetic engineering. What do all these stories have in common? They're all about medicine, biotechnology and health. But, unlike other medical news, these stories are anything but clinical.

All three come from STAT, a biotechnology website from The Boston Globe that got started in November 2015. Led by former Politico editor Rick Berke, STAT set out to chronicle the booming biotechnology industry in Boston and beyond.

Now, more than a year later, STAT has reporters scattered across the United States and is launching a paid subscription service for industry professionals who want to go deeper.

"There's a world out there of people who want to go way deeper into pharma," Berke said. "We see this as something of an experiment, frankly. We're not throwing our whole emphasis of the site into this. We're testing it out."

Readers who visit STAT this morning are greeted by a redesigned website with a separate section called "STAT Plus," which offers "exclusive, in-depth pharma, biotech, business and policy coverage," for $25 per month. The section is designed for "STAT addicts," Berke said, industry obsessives who check the site habitually. Meanwhile, much of the site will remain free so STAT can continue building its audience.

By launching a paid subscription service for biotechnology coverage, STAT is joining a somewhat crowded field. Politico, Berke's former employer, has paid verticals dedicated to eHealth and Healthcare. Luke Timmerman, a podcaster at STAT, covers the biotechnology world with a paid newsletter for subscribers. There are also several other paid services that cater to investors in the biotechnology world.

But Berke says STAT will distinguish itself from the competition with authoritative stories that are lively and well-written.

"We're not plugging dozens of people into every move on The Hill about healthcare or biotech...but we're not trying to go head-to-head with every jag and turn in pharma," Berke said. "I think what we have is journalism and stories that make a difference and touch people and that people want to read."

The paid service is part of an expansion plan that Boston Globe owner John Henry envisioned when he founded STAT. Paid content was crucial to STAT's future from the beginning, along with sponsored content and conventional sponsorships. Although the site isn't yet profitable, it's ahead of internal benchmarks.

"We're on the path to profitability," Berke said. "We're not near there yet at all. But we don't expect to be."

Covering medical news across the United States was also planned from the beginning. STAT has fulfilled those expectations in the last year, hiring journalists in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Cleveland. Berke just hired former CNN writer Max Blau, who will be STAT's first southern correspondent, based in Atlanta.

STAT's broken several big stories, too. Early scoops have included coverage of shady Epipen sales, the fentanyl crisis and clinical trials cited by Vice President Biden.

As the big stories have come, so have the readers. Although he declined to make specific site metrics available, Berke said the site has grown its audience over the last year, including some noteworthy readers. Bill Gates said he was a reader of the site, which resulted in an interview with the billionaire-philanthropist. Other newsy interviews have included a sitdown with Caitlyn Jenner and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

"I never would have dreamed of this when I talked to you a year and a half ago," Berke said. "We knew there were stories out there, but I didn't know how rich the opportunity would be, journalistically."

Good storytelling is STAT's guiding light, he said.

"You don't have to care about science or medicine," Berke said. "These are human stories."

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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