Skip to main content.

A Royal Convergence

A Royal Convergence

Picture of Bill Macfadyen

I've been a USC Annenberg School Fellow for all of 24 hours and I'm afraid my mind is completely blown.

We newbies had our first full session today at what I'll stubbornly call the Los Angeles Biltmore - out of respect for the past its current owners are still making it live in. But having been built in the mid-1920s as an ornate and state-of-the-art monument to the opulence of the pre-Depression era, the edifice is an ironic metaphor of a passed time. Especially given what my fellow Fellows and I are doing inside it.

It's not hard to imagine the Biltmore's architects and developers thinking its reign would last as long as the purebred House of Windsor. "We'll always have her," they might have exclaimed as they raised a toast poured by ... Lloyd the Bartender, who else? "There's simply no chance that she'll ever have a commoner's touch."

But royalty ain't what it used to be, as the Duchess of Cambridge can now attest. And just because you've got a hubristic millennium monarchy - or a monopoly of a medium - doesn't mean the bubble of entitlement will last forever. On a day in which a young woman can enter Westminster Abbey without title and emerge destined to be queen, I'm hopeful that the scenic route to my point is actually symbolic of what we are trying to achieve as New Media moguls.

Now where was I?

Well, Mildred Thompson, director of the PolicyLink Center for Health and Place, got the day started off with a thoughtful presentation on the health impacts of place and race, and challenged us on the importance of digging deeper into demographics. I think all of us were stunned by one of her statistics: Low- to moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their income on transportation to and from jobs. The figure is an eye-opener but I'm sure it actually dates to a simpler time when the poor saps were buying gas at nearly $2 a gallon less than they are now. Maybe they should think about a trade-in.

Next up was Frank Bass, data editor of Bloomberg Government, who did a data dump of his own with a treasure trove of tips for making sense of the census. Good Lord, I can't wait to see the look on our reporters' faces when I hand them his compendium on using census data for health reporting. Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli will think they have died and gone to spreadsheet heaven.

Charlie Ornstein of ProPublica put in an all-too-brief appearance to explain the ins and outs of covering community health. Using examples of past projects, he did an excellent job demystifying the process of tracking down vital information generated by people who often prefer that it not be found. I got a glimpse of his entrepreneurial tendencies through some of his overview. In much the same vein, I was impressed with John Funabiki, executive director of San Francisco State's Renaissance Journalism Center, who imaginatively pursued community partnerships and collaboration with his Vietnam Reporting Project. These are Noozhawk's role models, even though we just met.

Finally, the highlight of our day was the face time with our Senior Fellows - in my case, Susan Mernit of Oakland Local and Mark Taylor, a founder of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Our group - Brandy Tuzon Boyd of Natomas Buzz, Pascale Fusshoeller of YubaNet, Elizabeth Larson of Lake County News, Eddie North-Hager of Leimert Park Beat and I - reviewed our project plans, as well as our hopes and dreams, and the group discussion helped us slow down the focus while hitting the gas on the imagination, innovation and interaction. I've got whiplash!

But the grilling and the questions and the perspective and the experience were invaluable as we each move forward on what I think are all exciting examples of professional community journalism. The projects - at this point proprietary and publicly nondisclosed - should all have incredible impacts in their intended communities, and I hope they'll lead to future collaboration among us.

If our Annenberg projects turn out as we each expect, it will be yet more proof that New Media is the advance guard of creative destruction, and we're gaining sophistication and momentum. All the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to stop us.


Picture of Michelle Levander

A great summary of our day and the enthusiasm in the room. We have high hopes for these projects! 


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.


Follow Us



CHJ Icon