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Online Community Building and Health: A Program for Bloggers and Online News Editors

Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Program Description: 

USC Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships is launching a new program in 2011 to educate bloggers and editors of online news sites on ways to chronicle the health of their communities. At the same time, the program will help participants improve the “health” and sustainability of their own websites, with strategic and technical advice provided through a partnership with the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State. This program is co-sponsored by the Online News Association.  

Our program defines health broadly. Factors as diverse as environmental hazards, educational attainment, social capital, low crime rates, and a functioning urban infrastructure (good public transit, garbage collection, clean water) all contribute to the health of communities and the quality of life of residents.

The Annenberg School will select 10 Fellows to participate in the program through a competitive process. Each Fellow will receive $2,000 to support the completion of an ambitious community health news or storytelling project. Once a Fellow is selected, USC Annenberg covers all program expenses. The program will provide participants with new insights, storytelling approaches, and tools for chronicling the life and the health of communities; new strategies for building and engaging diverse audiences; and proven approaches for involving community contributors.  

Fellows are required to attend both program seminars. (The second session is scheduled for June 23-25, 2011.) The Fellowship brings together experts to help Fellows tackle topics in community health, such as environmental issues of concern to neighborhoods; the quality and location of civic infrastructure (for instance, healthy food vendors, child care centers, public transit routes, and safe routes to school); and the quality of local health care. We also will provide briefings that will help Fellows use census and other data to write authoritatively about the unique populations in their communities. The training sessions will combine hands-on workshops with moderated discussions and opportunities for informal discussions in which the Fellows can learn from each other.

Because all blogs and websites have unique characteristics and because each founder has his or her own vision, the program will provide individualized coaching and technical assistance over  six months. The coaching will be provided by Susan Mernit, founder of, and Staci Baird, a SF State lecturer and former multimedia journalist and internet marketing manager for Lucasfilm. Their coaching will focus on the Fellowship project and on tools and strategies that Fellows can use to build audience and promote engagement, including using social media for information gathering, crowd sourcing, and stimulating community conversations. In addition, veteran journalists will provide personalized guidance to help fellows complete their community health projects. These services are provided free of charge.

The fellows for the 2011 Online Community Building and Health Fellowship are as follows:
Who Can Apply: 
California-based Bloggers and Founders/Top Editors of online news web sites

Social Media & Community Engagement: Amplifying the Impact of Your Stories
Staci Baird, Lecturer, Journalism Department, San Francisco State University
Susan Mernit, Founder, Oakland Local

Baird and Mernit shared their extensive experience in building community engagement and using social media smartly to improve reader relationships and get the word out about Fellows' stories.

The Census, Government Datasets, and Health: How to Mine Crucial Data and Turn It into Compelling Reports
Frank Bass, Data Editor, Bloomberg Government

Bass, who shared the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General News Reporting for a series on Alabama's high infant mortality rate, shared tips on using data to better cover local community health issues.

Five Essential Resources for Covering Health in Your Community
Charles Ornstein, Senior Reporter, Pro Publica

Pulitzer Prize-winner Ornstein showed Fellows how to mine California state health data to unearth great local stories about local hospitals, other health care providers, and health care quality. 

Substandard Housing: A 21st Century Public Health Issue
Rishi Manchanda, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Social Medicine, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center

Fellows visited a densely populated immigrant neighborhood of Los Angeles to see firsthand the unique health challenges facing local residents because of substandard housing. At St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, they learned how clinicians pair medicine with legal aid to improve unhealthy housing conditions, then headed out with community organizers to meet tenants in their homes.

How Place and Race Impact Health
Mildred Thompson, Director, PolicyLink Center for Health and Place

Thompson helped Fellows examine the connections between demographics, income, behavior and environment that affect health for better or for worse.


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