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MEET THE TEAM: Linda Johnson

Many students are interested in either the sciences or the liberal arts. Meet Jeff Winton Associates consultant Linda Johnson, who excelled in both and combined those areas to build a distinguished career as a medical writer and highly-respected journalist.

Linda’s passion for writing started as a preteen when she produced a newsletter about events and people living on her street. In high school, her interests shifted to the sciences, with the goal of obtaining a medical degree and doing cancer research. A homeroom teacher encouraged Linda to focus on science and study German, an important language in scientific research.

“This turned out to be a huge asset several years later when, as a senior at La Salle University in Philadelphia, I was encouraged by the director of the honors program and the chairman of the German department to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship,” she says.

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Above: Linda loves to garden. Here, she is with her late-season harvest of vegetables, herbs and some flowerpots that she moved inside for the winter.

Linda won the Fulbright and spent a year researching humor in author Franz Kafka’s novels at the Austrian National Library in Vienna, where his writings and other documents were archived. She also studied German language, Austrian and German literature, and the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was able to travel to Kafka’s hometown of Prague and many other parts of Europe. 

After obtaining her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Linda initially worked as a freelance journalist, then as a full-time newspaper reporter and editor before freelancing for the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” all in the suburbs of her native Philadelphia.

Linda was soon hired full time by The Associated Press (AP) to work in its Des Moines, Iowa, bureau. After 2 ½ years, she transferred to Trenton, N.J., the main bureau of the five AP offices in New Jersey. Linda notes, “At that time (1992), the AP New Jersey staff focused on breaking news, politics, casinos, Jersey shore tourism and other fields. No one was regularly covering health and medicine in the state nicknamed ‘the nation’s medicine cabinet,’ so I persuaded the bureau chief to let me build a beat.” Linda’s stories, particularly those on the pharmaceutical industry, received major play in media outlets across the country and sometimes internationally. 

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Above: One of Linda’s many travels took her to Moeraki Boulders Beach, a strange formation of giant rocks in Hampden, New Zealand.

Linda also helped cover the latest studies published in the “New England Journal of Medicine,” while also reporting on a range of issues. Those included the worsening shortages of crucial medicines resulting in patient deaths, childhood obesity leading to preteens needing liver transplants, young girls abusing steroids to improve their figure and other troubling trends. 

While at the AP, Linda helped train new hires on everything from the fine points of wordsmithing to how to spot a great story. Additionally, in 2000, Linda created a course in health and science writing for Rutgers University’s communications school, which she taught for six semesters.

Reflecting on her decision to leave the AP after 32 years, Linda says, “I was eager to try something new that leveraged the skills I developed over four decades as a journalist. I also wanted to be my own boss for the first time in my life.” 

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Above: Linda is pictured here near the crater of Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii's big island.

This led her to reconnect with Jeff Winton, whom she met when covering the biopharma companies where he worked over the years. Linda says, “Jeff demonstrated a balance of honesty and enthusiasm for those companies, and I knew he was trustworthy as well. I was eager to accept Jeff’s invitation to become one of his consultants and practice communications from a different perspective.” In the process, Linda has learned how difficult it can be for biopharma companies to have their message heard amid today’s information overload. 

On a personal level, Linda lives with her boyfriend of nearly nine years, Jerry Alfe. Linda says, “I am fortunate to reside near my father, my two sisters and brother, six nieces and nephews, and a great-nephew. I also dote on the three-year-old granddaughter my boyfriend and I share.”

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Above: Linda and her boyfriend, Jerry Alfe, hit the slopes in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

Linda has a range of hobbies, including reading, music, jogging, gardening, Halloween, adventurous travel and downhill skiing. Besides multiple return visits to Vienna over the decades, Linda has traveled to most of Europe, Antarctica, Argentina, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and three-fourths of the states, including Hawaii and Alaska. “There are many amazing places, but my favorites so far are Alaska, Antarctica and New Zealand,” Linda says. “The latter two trips enabled me to see a total of six species of penguins, which I’m nuts about, in their habitats."

Linda feels a sense of accomplishment when creating clear, effective messages for clients as well as when cultivating her 500-square-foot organic vegetable and herb garden.

“I find working with plants is the perfect antidote to life’s stresses,” she says. “And what could be better than sharing the spoils with family and friends?

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