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Deer hunts, juvenile halls and healing: My favorite health stories of 2014 (Part 2)

Deer hunts, juvenile halls and healing: My favorite health stories of 2014 (Part 2)

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Reporter Leilani Clark's story featured Hortencia Garcia, food service manager at Roseland Elementary, who prepares fresh produce for students. (Photo by Michael Amsler/North Bay Bohemian)
Reporter Leilani Clark's story featured Hortencia Garcia, food service manager at Roseland Elementary, who prepares fresh produce for students. (Photo by Michael Amsler/North Bay Bohemian)

Last week I shared with you some of my favorite stories from reporters who have been through the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship. Below are three more to finish out another great year of hard-hitting and informative health journalism.

1. I think it’s a safe bet to say that most health reporters are not avid hunters. Ryan Sabalow happens to be both a deer hunter and a great health journalist. He combined his inside knowledge of the sport with his passion for nailing down the facts of a story to put together a multimedia series in The Indianapolis Star called Buck Fever.

I wrote a post with tips from the series, and I interviewed Sabalow. One of the best things he and his partners did was keep the series tightly focused. The first headline said it all: “Trophy deer industry linked to disease, costs taxpayers millions.” Sabalow summed up some of his findings in a follow-up piece:

The Star's investigation revealed that the 10,000 deer and elk farmers in the U.S. are shipping an unprecedented number of deer and elk across state lines to supply the burgeoning high-fence hunting industry. Deer and elk are bred for abnormally large antlers, some bigger than the established world record for wild animals. Top breeding stock can fetch six-figure prices. The Star's investigation revealed that bovine tuberculosis has been found on 50 captive deer and elk herds, and researchers say they believe that in at least four instances the disease jumped from captive deer and elk to cattle. One such case was in Indiana.

As someone who grew up in a hunting state – Montana – I know how unpopular it can be to dig into the hunting industry, but Sabalow’s stories were all fair-minded and well researched. As he told me, when I interviewed him:

Andrew McKean, the editor of Outdoor Life, did a blog post about the project, saying hunters need to take an active role in the debate. Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young, two trophy hunting organizations, also began aggressively posting position statements after the stories published, condemning the commercialization, genetic manipulation, disease risks and unsporting aspects of the deer-breeding industry. There have been a lot of really nuanced discussions on hunting message boards across the country. 

2. Raheem Hosseini spotted a trend in Sacramento that has echoes throughout the country: the steady shift of responsibility for mentally troubled kids from taxpayer-funded counseling and group homes to jails. Through interviews, public records searches, and nuanced storytelling, Hosseini used the fellowship to complete a definitive exploration of the all the ways young people in Sacramento are essentially put on a path to prison when what they really need is a toolkit to help them overcome trauma, sexual abuse, and mental health disorders. In his piece for the Sacramento News & Review, he wrote:

"About half of our juvenile hall is a mental health facility. And we don’t have adequate services to keep up with that," says Arthur L. Bowie, supervising assistant public defender of the county’s juvenile division. "We’re making criminals out of them, instead of what they are."

What they are, says Bowie and others, are victims of abusive homes and failed institutions. Institutionalized at a young age and too often deprived of proper psychiatric care, they’re groomed for lives on perpetual lockdown.

"Half these kids don’t belong in detention," says deputy probation officer Gabo Ly, who supervises the special needs unit, where juvenile hall’s most emotionally and psychologically unstable are segregated. "But this is all we have."

It’s a crisis in quiet, sapped of any grand political campaign or national outcry. Mental health resources evaporated so gradually that few outside the criminal justice system took notice of the mass migration. …  As a result, halls originally conceived as way stations for delinquents have transformed into long-term commitment facilities for the mentally unwell and emotionally troubled.

3. Leilani Clark could have written a report card that nobody would have read. In 2006, Kaiser Permanente kick-started a project meant to draw together public and private organizations working in the city of Roseland, Calif. under the banner of “Healthy Eating, Active Living” or HEAL. The project is funded through this year, which makes it a good time to assess its achievements. Clark wrote:

The idea is to build a ‘sphere of influence’ in Roseland, creating a ‘HEAL zone’ where community members of all ages and economic backgrounds can access healthful foods and physical exercise with ease.

Has HEAL worked? With her fellowship, Clark showed all the ways it has worked and the challenges that the collaboration has yet to overcome in a great piece for the North Bay Bohemian. One of the people she interviewed was Jessica Peterson, a community grant coordinator for the Roseland School District. As Clark explained:

Lack of transportation and financial resources bind many residents to their neighborhood, says Peterson. Some kids have never traveled to Howarth Park or Spring Lake, only a few miles away. Families are therefore dependent on the local schools, markets, streets and parks to provide exercise, education, nourishment and entertainment. But, as Portrait of Sonoma County points out, Roseland lacks open space and parks. In other words, the ‘built environment,’ as public health officials define it, has everything to do with the health of a community.

So the partners in HEAL had to build spaces that encouraged healthy living. One of these spaces was the 6-acre Bayer Farm, near an elementary school. Clark wrote:

Built in a collaboration between Landpaths and Santa Rosa Parks and Recreation Department, the farm offers gardening and cooking classes and the opportunity to grow organic foods.

One of the things I like the most about what Clark did with her piece is that she called out as many of the players involved as she could fit. It can be irritating as a reporter to write a list of names. Who really cares who sponsored the thing right? Just so long as it made a difference. But the best reporters feel a sense of shared responsibility for making their community better in some way. Reporters are quick to name and blame people and organizations that have been involved in a major failure that harms a community in some way. And more power to them. But they should similarly follow Clark’s lead in acknowledging the complex array of people and organizations that are so often involved in a health success story.

Photo credit: Michael Amsler/North Bay Bohemian.

Related posts:

Mothers, m-health and the messy space: My favorite health stories of 2014 (Part 1)


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