AHCJ has named Kelsey Ryan, the founder and publisher of a nonprofit online news network and a former health care reporter, as the organization’s executive director.
Chosen after a national search, Ryan replaces Andrew Smiley, who resigned in January. She will start on Sept. 6.
“Kelsey brings the exact mix of skills that we were looking for,” said Felice J. Freyer, AHCJ board president and chair of the search committee. “She has proven ability in running a nonprofit and raising money — and she also has worked as a journalist and shares our commitment to journalistic ethics.”
“Equally as important, in answering our questions, Kelsey showed a capacity for developing a vision for AHCJ’s future and leading us forward. The Board of Directors welcomes Kelsey to AHCJ and we look forward to working with her,” Freyer added.
Ryan founded The Beacon in 2018, and served as its publisher until this month. With 15 staff members and about 20 freelancers, The Beacon quickly became a leading news source for the Kansas City metro area and Wichita, Kan.
“As a former health care reporter — and former member of AHCJ — I’m thrilled to step into this role,” Ryan said. “Every person in every community should have access to quality health care information so they can make informed decisions. AHCJ members do that for their communities, readers and viewers every day.”
Ryan, 33, said she plans to work on membership growth, retention and diversity; expand programming on reporting for underserved communities and health equity; and strengthen ties with other journalism organizations.
As the search was under way, Katherine Reed, AHCJ’s director of education and content, kept the association on course as interim executive director, along with Director of Engagement Andrea Waner, who served as deputy interim director. Along with the rest of the staff, they organized the successful conference in Austin in April, AHCJ’s first in-person annual meeting in three years.
Len Bruzzese, AHCJ’s executive director from 2005 to 2020 who has served as senior advisor since stepping down, will continue in his advisory role for several more months.
Ryan was the first choice of a six-member search committee that selected her from among several finalists recruited and vetted by Harris Rand Lusk, a New York executive search firm.
Ryan, who lives in the Kansas City metro area, will split time between working at home and at AHCJ’s office at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo.
“Partnering with AHCJ allows the School to serve our community, the country, and even the world with accurate health care reporting that matters to people,” said David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. “The resources, training, and financial support AHCJ provides to our students and to working journalists continues to raise the bar for fact-based health care journalism, and I can’t wait to see Kelsey lift that bar even higher.”
Before founding The Beacon, Ryan worked at The Kansas City Star as a data and investigative journalist. She was on the investigative team that was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for its series on government secrecy in Kansas.
She began her reporting career at The Joplin (Mo.) Globe a day after an EF-5 tornado destroyed one-third of the city. She later worked at The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, covering health care and later city government and investigations.
Outside of daily journalism, she’s worked in nonprofit management at the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for government transparency and press freedom, and at Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, an association supporting news entrepreneurs.
Ryan is a Google News Initiative Fellow in Poynter’s Media Transformation Challenge executive fellowship program. She was selected this year for Editor & Publisher’s “25 under 35” list of news publishing leaders.