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USC Annenberg awards fellowships, health data reporting grants to 21 journalists

USC Annenberg awards fellowships, health data reporting grants to 21 journalists

Picture of Michelle Levander

We are pleased and delighted to welcome 21 diverse journalists from around the nation next week to join the USC Center for Health Journalism 2021 Data Fellowship. The highly selective program, which is being held via Zoom because of the pandemic, helps reporters gain investigative data skills through an intensive five-day series of workshops, followed by monthly trainings starting in November. It also provides one-on-one mentoring by some of the best data journalists in the country and grants to help underwrite reporting and data acquisition.

As we emerge from the pandemic, now is the time to chronicle and investigate essential stories on health equity and child and family well-being, by harnessing the power of data-informed reporting.

The Data Fellowship is designed for reporters who want to learn how to find and analyze data to produce journalism that can shape decision-making and legislation on health policy, health equity, underserved populations and child and family well-being. Each Fellow and his or her newsroom commit to publishing or broadcasting a major investigative or explanatory project that is completed with help from the Center’s Data Fellowship mentors. 

The program is made possible thanks to the generous support of the California Health Care Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The California Endowment.

Topics that this year’s Data Fellows will tackle in their reporting projects include: the caregiving crisis in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic; San Francisco's three-year-old “coordinated entry” program for the homeless; the effect of the pandemic on learning gains in Latino youth in Arizona and Black children in Georgia; the public health effects of oil refiners in southern California; gaps in Santa Barbara County’s mental health services; racial disparities in overdose deaths in San Francisco; one tribe’s intergenerational health impacts resulting from the U.S. government’s assimilation policies at Indian boarding schools; problems in Texas’ psychiatric hospitals for youth; governmental regulation and public health impacts of oil refineries in Wilmington, California; and the intersection of the opioid, child welfare and COVID-19 crises in Maine.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, now is the time to chronicle and investigate essential stories on health equity and child and family well-being — by harnessing the power of data-informed reporting, said Michelle Levander, founding director of the USC Center. “We are so delighted to have the opportunity to work with these talented reporters.”

 The Fellowship is funded by generous grants from two of California’s leading health foundations, the California Health Care Foundation and The California Endowment, the center’s founding funder, and from the New York-based Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

“As California continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, we need data-driven health journalism to inform our citizenry and spur important policy debates,” said Sandra R. Hernández, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the California Health Care Foundation. “We are proud to support the Data Fellowship and the important contributions it makes to strengthening health journalism in California and beyond.”

“As the largest health foundation in California, we know that connecting data with the human experience in reporting is a powerful way to create change in the systems and policies that continue to disproportionately impact communities of color,” said Sarah Reyes, managing director, communications, for The California Endowment. “The Center for Health Journalism Data Fellowship provides a unique opportunity for journalists to learn how to analyze and interpret data for storytelling that can provide a new understanding on health and racial equity to their audiences. Programs like this are instrumental in improving the health conditions of all Californians.”

Rumeli Banik, senior program officer for child well-being for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said, “Data-driven journalism plays an essential role in unearthing and elevating the visibility of critical issues affecting the health and well-being of children and families across the country. We are pleased to again support a new cohort of National Data Fellows whose evidence-backed reporting will inform today’s discourse for a healthier and more just society.”

The 2021 Data Fellows are:

Emily Bader, health and enterprise reporter for the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine

Aura Bogado, senior reporter and producer for Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting

Kristi Coale, freelance reporter and producer for The Frisc

Caitlin Cruz, senior news reporter for Jezebel

Daniel Gonzalezsenior reporter for race, equity and opportunity for the Arizona Republic/USA Today Network  

Will Huntsberry, investigative reporter with Voice of San Diego

Kyeland Jackson data reporter for Report For America at Twin Cities PBS

Jenna Kunze,  staff reporter at Indian Country Media

Stephanie Lamm,  data reporter on the investigative team at the Houston Chronicle

Adam Mahoney,  reporter at the nonprofit climate magazine Grist

Jade Martinez-Pogue,  general assignment reporter for Noozhawk, a Santa Barbara County news outlet

Holly J. McDede, reporter, editor and producer at KQED public radio

Justin Murphy,  education reporter at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York

Liz Owens, senior investigative reporter at WRDW/WAGT in Augusta, Georgia

Edwin Rios, reporter at Mother Jones

Chloe Lee Rowlands, data journalist at Bay City News Foundation

Alex Stuckey,  investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle

Elizabeth Thompson, Report for America corps member for North Carolina Health News

Beth Thornton, freelancer for KCBX Central Coast Public Radio

William Wan, enterprise reporter at The Washington Post

Beau Yarbrough, watchdog and education reporter for the Southern California News Group.

Highlights of next week’s training institute include:

  •  A keynote address focused on a groundbreaking Boston Globe project, “Is Death the Great Equalizer?” co-authored by veteran data journalist Todd Wallack, now deputy managing editor at WBUR.
  • Neil Bedi, reporter for ProPublica, and Kathleen McGrory, deputy editor of investigations for the Tampa Bay Times, who will speak about their Fellowship project, the 2021 Pulitzer Prize winning investigation, “Targeted,” and how it embodies the Center’s “Impact reporting” model. 
  • Fellows will learn how reporting by three 2020 Data Fellows held officials to account during a panel discussion featuring Rebecca Lindstrom, an investigative reporter for 11Alive in Atlanta; Kate Martin, lead investigative reporter for North Carolina Public Press, and Lexis-Olivier Ray, staff writer for L.A.  Taco. 
  • Meghan Hoyer, director of the data team at The Washington Post, and Elizabeth Lucas, adjunct professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, will lead sessions on how to report on child and family health, and on health equity and health disparities.
  • Andrew Ba Tran, data reporter, Rapid Response Investigative Team of The Washington Post, on how to report on “excess deaths” when other official data sources are lacking. 
  • Jeff Meitrodt and Nicole Norfleet of The Star Tribune will speak about how they built their own database to answer questions about the controversial industry that buys court settlement contracts of people who have suffered from disabling accidents, often for pennies on the dollar. 

Fellows will benefit from the expertise of five distinguished data journalists who will lead skills sessions during the training program and also serve as Senior Fellows (mentors) as projects are reported and written. The Data Fellowship offers three training tracks, with

Fellows in the most advanced training track learning the R software environment for statistical computing and graphics.

This year’s Senior Fellows are Elizabeth Lucas, Adjunct Professor, University of Missouri School of Journalism; Christian McDonald, assistant professor of practice at the University of Texas at Austin; Eric Sagara, data journalist with Big Local News at Stanford University; Andrew Ba Tran, investigative data reporter for The Washington Post’s rapid response team; and MaryJo Webster, data editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Through the mentoring and reporting process, Senior Fellows help Fellows apply lessons learned during workshops into practice to produce a major project that can illuminate important issues for their communities. 

Other distinguished data journalists experts who will serve as trainers or coaches during the Fellowship are Sarah Cohen, Knight Chair in Digital Journalism at Arizona State University; Sandhya Kambhampati, senior data reporter at the Los Angeles Times and Paul Overberg, data reporter for the Wall Street Journal. 

Up to three of the California Data Fellows also will receive engagement grants and specialized mentoring to help them connect with their audiences and communities in more intimate, meaningful and impactful ways as part of our ongoing commitment to advance and support “engaged journalism.”

Since 2005, the Center for Health Journalism has trained more than 1,200 journalists through our intimate in-person Fellowships on the craft and content of health journalism, with an emphasis on the relationship between health and place. Past fellowship projects can be found here

You can follow the conversation on the Data Fellows on Twitter at #2021USCDATA.

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The USC Center for Health Journalism's Impact Funds provide reporting support — funding and mentoring — to journalists who think big and want to make a difference. 

Apply today for our National Impact Fund for reporting on health equity and health systems across the country. 

Apply today for our California Impact Fund for reporting that brings untold stories to light in the Golden State. 

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