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Annenberg Fellowships Take a Diverse Approach to Community Health Journalism

In addition to Noozhawk's prescription drug series, projects include Monterey County nutrition and Los Angeles County transportation

By Alex Kacik, Noozhawk Business Writer | @NoozhawkBiz |

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 12 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]

Thanks to this year’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, professional hyperlocal news outlets have added new insights and perspectives to their reporting on health issues.

USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and The California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation, trained and funded professional journalists to bring health journalism back into the daily coverage of their local communities.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk was selected for one of 10 2011 fellowships in March, and immediately set about researching and reporting on the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. That series of articles, which began Sept. 12, concludes this week.

“It’s a very impressive project that hits every important element of this local and national tragedy of prescription drug abuse,” said Michelle Levander, director of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships. “It provides a compelling portrait of the local challenges and solutions, many firsthand stories to put a human face on the problem, national trends, the science of addiction and the practical efforts to curb it.

“Equally impressive were the columns by contributors and the PSAs by students.”

Michelle Levander of USC's Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism says simple extra questions by journalists can enrich their stories and expand the context for readers.
Michelle Levander of USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism says simple extra questions by journalists can enrich their stories and expand the context for readers.

To better incorporate health journalism into daily news coverage, sometimes it just takes asking an extra question that can enrich stories on a host of topics, such as “What are the mental health effects of foreclosures on a family who loses a home?” Levander said.

“Thinking of health as a community story can lead you into many rich directions,” she said.

There’s a shift in journalism under way today,with people expecting interaction with reporters and editors, and this year’s fellowships explored different ways to establish that channel, said Jon Funabiki, executive director of San Francisco State University’s Renaissance Journalism Center, which partnered with the Annenberg School in the Health Journalism Fellowships program.

“People are no longer content to have news broadcast to them on their doorstep through one-way traffic,” he said. “They want a two-way conversation.”

Noozhawk provided a good example of how to engage with the public and incorporate the business aspect into its project, Funabiki said.

“Bill saw that all the community engagement activity was also a way of building the business through finding sponsors, advertisers and raising public awareness to develop a partnership with the local TV station,” he said.

Levander was also impressed with the projects produced by the Santa Cruz Wire and LA.StreetsBlog.org.

In Santa Cruz, co-founders and editors Maria Gaura and Tara Leonard analyzed Monterey County foodbanks and their efforts to confront malnutrition and transform food aid for the poor. Click here for the Santa Cruz Wire series.

In Los Angeles, LA.StreetsBlog founder and editor Damien Newton examined transportation and the progress of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Policies for Livable, Active, Communities and Environments (PLACE) Program. Click here for the LA.StreetsBlog series.

“We’re the car culture capital of the world and we’re trying to put the brakes on that,” said Newton, whose reporting suggested transportation alternatives and improvements that promote more active lifestyles.

There are seven other independent news sites in Annenberg’s Class of 2011.

» The Homeless in Santa Barbara blog, published by founder and editor Isabelle Walker, is writing about what happens to homeless people after they are discharged from a hospital or emergency room.

» Led by founder and editor Elizabeth Larson, Lakeport’s Lake County News is producing a series on Lake County’s vehicle crash statistics dating back to 2006, and contributing factors.

“The Annenberg project has provided Lake County News with many wonderful opportunities,” Larson said. “We’ve learned about new reporting resources relating to heath, been afforded the chance to closely study an important community health and safety issue, and also had great fun getting to work and learn alongside of many amazing online publishing colleagues.”

Jon Funabiki of San Francisco State University’s Renaissance Journalism Center says today's news consumers want and expect a two-way conversation, not one-way traffic from journalists.
Jon Funabiki of San Francisco State University’s Renaissance Journalism Center says today’s news consumers want and expect a two-way conversation, not one-way traffic from journalists.

» Leimert Park Beat founder and publisher Eddie North-Hager is writing about the ties between safe places in a community and emotional and physical health. The project will produce reasons for the lack of parks and open spaces in South Los Angeles, the consequences for residents’ health and efforts to increase recreational options.

» Brandy Tuzon Boyd, founder and editor of NatomasBuzz.com, is examining efforts to promote walking and biking in suburban Sacramento.

» San Francisco’s SF Public Press, led by founder and editor Michael Stoll, is looking at the track record of a city-sponsored health care program called Healthy San Francisco.

» Way Out West, led by co-editor and founding partner Victoria Schlesinger, is analyzing how the Bay Area is affected by the implementation of California’s pioneering 2007 Green Chemistry Initiative to regulate the chemicals in consumer and commercial products.

» Pascale Fusshoeller, co-founder and editor of YubaNet.com in Nevada City, analyzed the health effects of ozone and particulate matter pollution in the Sierra Nevada, with an emphasis on wildfire.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.




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