Center for Health Journalism announces 2021 National Fellows

Published on
July 13, 2021

The USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism has selected 24 journalists from around the country to take part in its 2021 National Fellowship, which includes a one-week training institute, reporting grants and one-on-one mentoring to advance reporting on critical health and social welfare issues.

We are excited to welcome this talented group of reporters – whose projects will investigate and explore urgent issues in their communities and the nation – that speak to lingering inequities worsened by the pandemic. The program is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Fellows’ reporting projects, supported by grants of $2,000-$10,000, will illuminate how social conditions, health care inequities and systemic racism impact children, youth and families in communities across the nation, as well as pathways to change.

The Center’s diverse Fellowship class brings together competitively chosen seasoned veterans, including two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, as well as promising early-career journalists.

Half of the 20 Fellowship projects will be led by journalists of color, a reflection of the Center’s commitment to advancing the careers and skills of reporters who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Projects will largely focus on the health challenges facing Black, Native American, Latino, elderly, low-income or incarcerated people.

The 2021 National Fellowship class will include print journalists from the New York Times, The Washington Post, Stat, USA Today, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Chicago Sun-Times, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the San Francisco Chronicle, Easton Express-Times and the San Antonio Express-News; digital journalists from The Frontier (Oklahoma), Better Government Association (Chicago), Capital & Main (Los Angeles), Arctic Today (Alaska), Public Source (Pittsburgh), and The Fuller Project; and broadcast journalists from Noticias Telemundo, Iowa Public Radio, KXAN in Austin and KOSU in Tulsa.

For their Fellowship projects, Fellows will explore topics such as racism’s impact on the mental health of minority youth; the Black-White achievement gap in schools; policing practices in Chicago and Texas that impact the well-being of Black and Latino families; and the disproportionate representation of Native American girls in school discipline and juvenile justice and foster care systems in Minnesota. Other topics include the increase in chronic infectious diseases related to climate change and poor sanitation in Arctic villages; the health effects of displacement and gentrification in Bethlehem, PA; and the Muscogee Nation’s investments in new mental health care systems and police responses to mental health crises. Several Fellows will explore pandemic-related topics, including the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on meatpackers in Iowa; how a lack of broadband connections affected student learning on Washington Indian reservations; why so many deaths occurred in nursing homes; and how Virginia's public health agencies mishandled the pandemic.

National Fellows will take part in a virtual Fellowship via Zoom from July 19-23 that brings together leading public health experts, journalists and community leaders. Fellows will receive reporting grants and mentoring from veteran journalists for five months after the training. In addition, five Fellows will receive awarded community engagement mentoring on “engaged journalism” and engagement grants.

Below are the 2021 National Fellows and their Fellowship projects:


Christina Caron, New York Times, will report on the link between experiencing racism and mental health challenges for Black and Latino children. 

TyLisa Johnson, Public Source (Pittsburgh), will explore the Pittsburgh Public School district’s struggle to narrow achievement gaps between Black and White students and how COVID has deepened the educational inequities.

Kassie McClung, The Frontier (Oklahoma), will explore maternal and infant health in Oklahoma

Nina Shapiro, Seattle Times, will report on the digital divide in the age of COVID -- a time in which much of the world has gone remote.

Sushma Subramanian, Washington Post Magazine (freelance), will report about a new approach to child custody arrangements following divorce.

Jessica Washington, The Fuller Project, will report on how Native girls in Hennepin County, Minnesota are impacted by school discipline and the foster care and juvenile justice systems.


David Barer and Josh Hinkle, KXAN (Austin TV), will investigate socioeconomic and racial trends in Texas’ mental competency cases involving people charged with violence against public servants.

Jorge Carrasco and Juan Cooper of Noticias Telemundo will report on Latinos’ participation in clinical trials.

Allison Herrera KOSU (Oklahoma public radio) will report on tribal-run mental health programs in Oklahoma and whether they are having an impact on policing by both tribal and non-tribal law enforcement in the state.  

Laura Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, will examine systemic inequities in San Antonio’s health care and social services systems that have long encouraged economic growth and investment in more affluent parts of the city, leaving predominantly Latino and Black communities with scarce access to medical services. 

Usha Lee McFarling, Stat, will examine one disease through the lens of health equity, looking at how issues from clinical trials to the development of drugs by biotech startups to genomic work to further personalized medicine, to widespread screening and accessible treatment, have not included underrepresented minorities.

Sabrina Moreno, Richmond Times Dispatch, will look into the chronic underfunding of public health departments in Virginia and how that led to a deadly inequity toll on the state's Black and Latino residents.

Yereth Rosen, Arctic Today, will examine the connection between respiratory diseases and inadequate water/wastewater services and housing in rural Alaska, where the population is mostly indigenous. The project will focus on responses and solutions, including new designs appropriate for an Alaska environment undergoing rapid climate change. 

Stephen Simpson, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, will analyze health disparities throughout Arkansas, with a focus on the Delta area, where the once thriving cities of Blytheville and Pine Bluff have declined, affecting residents' access to health care.

Center for Health Journalism Fund 

Donnell Alexander, Capitol & Main (freelance), will look at efforts to redress disproportionate drug prosecution in communities of color by providing opportunities to Black entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. Traditionally, ownership is mostly White, and Blacks have historically been servers, not owners.

Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio, will examine the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Iowa’s meatpacking industry and its workers, who accounted for thousands of confirmed cases, and what action one of Iowa’s largest industries is taking to protect the health of its workers in the future. 

Susie Neilson, San Francisco Chronicle, will focus on health care providers within California’s county jail system.

Jared Rutecki and Casey Toner, Better Government Association (Chicago) and Frank Main, Chicago Sun-Times, will document the hundreds of thousands of arrests over the past decade of people accused of possession of small quantities of narcotics in Cook County, Illinois — and the massive costs to society of those drug cases, which, more often than not, get quickly dismissed.

Sara Satullo, Easton Express-Times, will explore the intersection of the coronavirus pandemic and a housing shortage exacerbated by the gentrification of South Bethlehem. It’s a story where health, race, real estate, urban development, and gentrification all converge. 

Letitia Stein, USA Today, will investigate how nursing homes caring for the elderly and medically fragile lacked adequate protections for their residents and staff during wave after wave of the pandemic.