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2019 National Fellowship

Program Description: 

Each year we bring 20 competitively selected professional journalists from print, broadcast, ethnic and online media outlets to the University of Southern California campus for an all-expenses-paid journalism institute. Each Fellow returns to their newsroom with a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000. For six months afterwards, senior journalists guide them as they complete ambitious explanatory or investigative Fellowship projects that impact policy and spur new community conversations. Click here to read the hundreds of impactful stories that our Fellows have produced over the years, winning journalism awards along the way.

Click here  for a list of the 2019 National Fellows and descriptions and links to their reporting projects.

At a time of dramatic change in the media landscape, our National Fellowship offers journalists a chance to step away from the newsroom to learn new ways of thinking about what shapes the health and well-being of children and families. In workshops, field trips and discussions, Fellows learn from nationally renowned health experts, policy analysts and community health leaders, from top journalists in the field and from each other. Participants "graduate" with a multitude of story ideas and sources, plus a thorough understanding of the root causes of ill health, including trauma during childhood, barriers to health care access, the built environment, parental unemployment, lack of education, exposure to community or domestic violence and lack of access to healthy food. The program is practical and inspiring, focusing on content as well as craft.  We emphasize "impact" journalism, solutions journalism and community engagement approaches that help journalists to make a difference.

The 2019 National Fellowship, held in July 2019, was designed for journalists who want to do groundbreaking reporting on vulnerable children, youth and families in the United States and the community conditions that contribute to their well-being. Fellows gained insights into the latest research on how a child’s  development over a lifetime is affected by early experiences of trauma, including abuse, neglect, parental stress and community violence. Other workshops and discussions – with distinguished journalists, researchers, clinicians and community case workers --  delved into the impact of poverty on children, including food insecurity, substandard housing and parents’ economic insecurity. And we examined the possible impacts on children's health and well-being of proposals in Congress to reduce social supports and health coverage. 

We also explored the connections between health and place, or how neighborhood, work and home environments impact health, well-being and life expectancy. Fellows learned about innovative prevention and clinical programs that suggest ways to address chronic ills, and they received advice on engagement strategies that can help to maximize the impact of reporting. 

The 2019 National Fellowship was supported by generous grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The California Endowment

In conjunction with the National Fellowship, we administer two funds that underwrite specialized reporting on domestic health and social welfare issues and a third fund that underwrites community engagement efforts:

  • The Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism is a competitive grants program that supports substantive reporting on community health issues in underserved communities. Each Hunt grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship’s $2,000 stipend, to support reporting on a community health topic. The Hunt Fund supports investigative and explanatory projects that will broaden the public's understanding of community health – examining how poverty, race, ethnicity, pollution, crime, and land-use and urban planning decisions influence the quality of life of residents as well as innovative ways to address these disparities. Past grantees have explored themes including environmental health; chronic disease and its disproportionate toll on certain communities; access to care for diverse communities; health reform innovations and challenges; and transportation challenges that interfere with prospects for good health.  The Hunt Fund is supported by donations from The California Endowment and relatives and friends of the late Dennis Hunt, who co-founded the Center for Health Journalism.
  • The Fund for Journalism on Child Well-Being supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, underwrites substantive reporting on vulnerable children and families. Each grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship stipend, to support investigative or explanatory reporting on the impact of poverty and childhood trauma, including youth as they transition into adulthood. Reporters may also choose to examine the performance of the institutions and government and private programs that serve these families. We’re interested in proposals for projects that look at child welfare and child health and well-being, including, but not limited to, the impact of toxic stress; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; the role of policy in improving prospects for children, including those in juvenile detention; and innovative approaches to the challenges that children in underserved communities face.
  • The Community Engagement Fund provides supplemental grants of $2,000 to underwrite innovative community engagement strategies. Click here to read more about how we define community engagement and what we're looking for in community engagement proposals.  
Who Can Apply: 

The National Fellowship is open to professional journalists who work for or contribute to print, broadcast and online media outlets throughout the United States, including freelancers. Applicants do not need to be full-time health reporters, but should have a demonstrated interest in health, social welfare or child and family issues, broadly defined to include the health of communities (see more below). 

We prefer that applicants have a minimum of three years of professional experience; many have decades. Journalists writing for ethnic media are strongly encouraged to apply. Proposals for collaborative projects between mainstream and ethnic news outlets receive preferential consideration, as do projects produced for co-publication or co-broadcast in both mainstream and ethnic news outlets. Freelancers are welcome, but need to have a confirmed assignment and should earn the majority of their income from journalism. Applicants must be based in the United States. Students and interns are ineligible. 

  • Please contact Martha Shirk at if you have questions about your eligibility or what we're looking for in a project proposal.

Each applicant must propose a substantive report project that can be completed in the six months following the Fellowship session. For the 2019 National Fellowship, we will consider proposals for projects that:

  • Expose critical community health issues or explore the influence of social, economic and environmental factors on health, including social class; exposure to crime and violence; urban development, transportation or city planning; barriers to health care resources; exposure to toxins; and racial, ethnic, economic or geographic disparities.
  • Explore child welfare, juvenile justice and child health and well-being issues, including, but not limited to, the impact of chronic stress and childhood trauma on child development; inequities in the juvenile justice system; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; childhood obesity; the role of policy in improving prospects for children; and innovative solutions to the challenges facing children in underserved communities
  • Investigate threats to the health and social welfare safety nets or illuminate health care innovations and reforms that benefit disadvantaged populations.


Why Apply?

Knowledge and Skills: During field trips and seminars, participants hear from respected investigative journalists and leaders in community health, health policy and medicine.

Workshops provide practical reporting tips, expert sources, community engagement strategies and informed policy perspectives on the circumstances that shape health or ill health in communities across America, with a focus on children. Participants also gain insights into how to document health and demographic trends in their local communities through innovative storytelling and data visualization techniques.

Financial Support and Mentoring:  National  Fellows each receive a reporting stipend of $2,000 to offset the costs of ambitious investigative and explanatory journalism or grants of $2,500 to $10,000 from our two topic-focused journalism funds. The grants are payable either directly to the Fellow or his or her media outlet. Journalism fellows also receive six months of mentoring from senior journalists as they usher their projects to completion.


How to Apply

Click here  for details about what's required in an application.

What Some of our 2018 National Fellows Said about the Fellowship:

Mabinty Quarshie, USA Today: The National Fellowship is an amazing program that gives journalists the training and resources they need to report on pressing health issues that affect our lives. This program has enabled to rethink how I approach my work as a journalist and all the change that is possible to impact through health journalism. I think that mostly what I will take back is that there are hundreds of untold stories that we can tackle if we are willing to look at data, or change how we do engagement, and go into underserved communities. Each session was great in its own special way. This has made me think more about what stories aren't being covered and what ways my newsroom and I can cover these stories.

Maria Sosa, Univision Miami: The Center does an extraordinary job of shedding light on very important issues, not only locally, but nationally. By choosing great journalists, and giving them mentorship along the way, the Center guarantees the publication of great stories that will address very important matters.  It has helped me broaden possibilities, and also it has been very inspirational to get to meet great speakers and veteran journalists. 

Jayne O’Donnell, USA Today: The Fellowship provides fabulous training that we aren't getting at work, hands-on help and the opportunity to connect with other journalists. 

Mc Nelly Torres, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo de Puerto Rico: The National Fellowship has been a terrific experience and opportunity to focus on projects addressing important issues that affect our communities. I recommend this fellowship to anybody who wants to embark on an ambitious project.

Lee Hawkins, Wall Street Journal: The National Fellowship has provided me with a much deeper understanding of childhood well-being issues, which I can apply immediately to a story I'm working on. I will go back to the office with a deeper understanding of the effects of adverse childhood experiences and long-term societal consequences.

Jonetta Rose Barras, freelancer for Capital Community News: Sometimes we can get stuck seeing our work through a narrow lens. The week of training provided by the Center helped open my mind to new topics and new approaches, creating along the way a deeper appreciation for the work we do. I learned about the issue of trauma from a scientific perspective from people who are doing deep dive research, greatly informing future work I may do in this area. I learned how to build an investigative news package; how to handle government data to secure the information I actually need; how to build multiple sources using various platforms including social media; and how to fully engage those sources and impacted communities in my reporting. 

Ke Xu, Singtao Daily: The National Fellowship is informative, inspiring and very well-organized. It offers you a great training opportunity and support in your journalism career.  The concept of “social determinants of health” gave me a new angle in health reporting, especially how immigration status affects health conditions of undocumented immigrants, and how poverty, discrimination and the toxic political climate do harm to their health.  

Marina Riker, Victoria (Texas) Advocate: I can't even begin to say how thankful I am for this experience. For anyone who cares about standing up for vulnerable populations and helping spur change in their communities, this program is incredible. I'll bring back information about research, audience engagement and reporting tools that can help ensure our reporting has impact.

Luann Rife, Roanoke Times: This is a terrific program that is focused on impactful journalism, which is so refreshing in the current climate. Lots of great information to digest. Many of the discussions, both formal and informal, will help to shape and focus my project.  

Binghui Huang, [Allentown] Morning Call: Attending the Fellowship is like going through journalism school for investigative reporting in four days. You learn the steps of going after a big story and see a lot of examples of how it can be done.  All the reporters who talked about their projects inspired me to plan projects better. I never thought about children inheriting trauma in their genes or in the womb. When I write about vulnerable families, I'll explain about the effects of trauma on their children's health.

Paul Demko, Politico: This is a valuable program that will provide the tools (monetary, professional, etc.) you need to deliver an in-depth reporting project that goes beyond the typical beat reporting. I will utilize reporting, writing and organizing skills that I learned – or had re-enforced – through this program. It deepened my understanding of child mental health and the profound ways that lives are shaped by forces far beyond their control. 

Katie Evans, Richmond Times-Dispatch: In a time of increasing demands and uncertainty, having an opportunity to build your skills and learn from top notch journalists is crucial. Apply, apply, apply!  This program has challenged me, augmented my strengths and laid bare some blind spots. I’ll be using data to tell stories with more strength and clarity and working harder to engage communities about issues that impact them. I have a deeper understanding of the science behind childhood trauma and its relationship to other critical health conditions.

Amanda Curcio, Arkansas Gazette: The Fellowship is a great blend of informative sessions with experts, interactions with communities impacted by health issues and (sessions with) other journalists who can guide you through managing a tough project. I learned a lot of effective ways to engage people from communities that are often hard to reach.

Linda Jacobson, Education Dive:  You leave the event feeling like you'll have the support and resources you need to do important work.

Bailey Loosemore, Louisville Courier-Journal:  The National Fellowship asks a lot from its participants, but it's tailor made to prepare them for intense projects that require a lot of support. This program made me want to think deeper about my subjects and to really identify realistic goals. It makes me want to work more creatively and to try new things without fear of failure. At a basic level, I'll take back a few new keyboard tricks to clean data faster. And I've learned to adamantly refuse to take "no" for an answer. I was fascinated to learn that a mother's stress levels and nutrition during pregnancy can have lifelong effects on her child, putting them at risk for a variety of health issues. It made me think about my own childhood and how people can be naturally set up to succeed or fail.





Journalists attending the 2018 National Fellowship took part in discussions about:

  • How conditions outside of the doctor’s office contribute to health and insights on the emerging science on fetal programming
  • How social and health policy under Trump affects children and families
  • How trauma in infancy and early childhood affects health, prospects and life expectancy and contributes to the development of chronic disease in middle age
  • Leading clinical interventions to address childhood trauma
  • How to report ethically on communities in crisis – with four veteran reporters
  • How to engage with communities and involve them in the storytelling, led by engagement specialists from ProPublica
  • How to manage big projects – with master storyteller Jacqui Banaszynski, editor of Nieman Storyboard  
  • The National Fellows also took a field visit to an innovative county program that seeks to address the unmet social needs of patients. Chronic problems – such as homelessness, hunger or domestic violence – can be the underlying causes of the symptoms that bring patients into county clinics.


Do you have a great idea for a potentially impactful reporting project on a health challenge in California?  Our 2020 Impact Fund can provide financial support and six months of mentoring.


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