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

Published on
December 1, 2020

I’m pleased to announce the launch today of our 2020 Data Fellowship and to welcome the accomplished reporters who will be participating in the program. Twenty one journalists from around the nation are joining the USC Center for Health Journalism this week to take part in the 2020 Data Fellowship. The highly selective program, which runs from November 30-December 4, helps reporters gain investigative data skills through an intensive five-day series of workshops, followed by monthly trainings starting in January. The program also provides six months of one-on-one mentoring by some of the best data journalists in the country and grants of $2,000-$10,000 to help underwrite reporting and data acquisition.

The Data Fellowship is designed for reporters who want to learn how to harness and analyze data to produce “impact reporting” that can shape decision-making, policy and legislation on health policy and child and family well-being. Each Fellow – and his or her newsroom – commit to a major investigative or explanatory project that is completed with help from the Center’s data journalism mentors. This year, we invited applications focused on health disparities and family well-being – as seen through the lens of COVID-19 and systemic racism.

For their reporting projects, several Data Fellows will explore the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on various high-risk populations, such as farmworkers, residents of dense urban neighborhoods and young English language learners. Other topics that the Fellows will explore include the impacts of hospital closures in rural Georgia and urban Philadelphia; mental and physical health challenges for youth who survive shootings in Chicago; adverse outcomes for children attending segregated schools in Virginia; and reasons for minimal progress preventing premature births.

Reporters participating in the Data Fellowship will be more equipped to perform an essential service – telling untold stories about health equity during the pandemic. They’ll learn to harness the power of data-informed reporting to assess how children and families are faring and how community health and health care systems perform.   

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 by the New York-based Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

“Data can be a powerful tool to help journalists understand and report what is really going on inside our health care system,” said Sandra R. Hernández, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the California Health Care Foundation. “We are proud to again support the Data Fellowships so that top California's top health care journalists have the skills they need to look at the numbers.”

“The California Endowment believes that data and science are key to providing accurate reporting,” said Sarah Reyes, Managing Director, Communications, for The California Endowment. “The Center for Health Journalism Data Fellowship is instrumental in improving the state’s reporting infrastructure. Training journalists on how data can be used in their storytelling will open up new understanding on the health status of vulnerable Californians.”

Lola Adedokun, director for child well-being for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said, “It is more important than ever to support journalists in rebuilding a data driven culture to more effectively communicate the pressing issues facing our nation. We are pleased to support a third cohort of National Data Fellows who will prove critical in authentically and critically informing today’s discourse, for a better tomorrow.”

Highlights of the agenda include Lauren Weber and Hannah Recht of Kaiser Health News speaking about their prize-winning “Underfunded and Under Threat” project about the state of the nation’s public health systems; Kathleen McGrory, deputy investigations editor at the Tampa Bay Times, a 2019 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting and 2016 Center Fellow, speaking on how to manage a big investigative project; and a panel of three accomplished journalists discussing how they build their own datasets from scratch at a time when data on the pandemic is incomplete and inconsistent. Meghan Hoyer, data editor for the Associated Press, will speak about valuable data sets on child and family well-being. Elizabeth Lucas, data editor at Kaiser Health News, will lead a session on how to report on health disparities during the pandemic. And Paul Overberg, data reporter with the Wall Street Journal, will discuss the perils of working with “noisy data,” and co-lead a session on the U.S. Census with Sandhya Kambhampati, a data reporter on the Los Angeles Times Data Desk.

In addition, Fellows will benefit from the expertise of six distinguished data journalists who will lead skills sessions during the training program and also serve as Senior Fellows (mentors) for six months afterwards. This year, for the first time, the Center is offering three training tracks. Fellows in the most advanced training track will learn the R software environment for statistical computing and graphics.

The Senior Fellows are Christian McDonald, assistant professor of practice at the University of Texas at Austin; Cheryl Phillips, a journalism professor and founder of Big Local News at Stanford University; Eric Sagara, senior data journalist at Stanford’s Big Local News; Andrew Ba Tran, investigative data reporter for The Washington Post’s rapid response team; MaryJo Webster, data editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and Aaron Williams, a freelance data journalist formerly with The Washington Post.

Up to three of the California Data Fellows also will receive engagement grants 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.”

The Center for Health Journalism has educated more than 1,000 journalists through our intimate in-person Fellowship on the craft and content of health journalism, with an emphasis on the relationship between health and place. This year, our Data Fellowship will take place remotely through Zoom. Past Fellowship projects can be found here. The Center also reaches hundreds of thousands annually through its interdisciplinary commentary and analysis content site,, focused on health policy, our nation’s health divide and – these days – the COVID-19 pandemic. We also serve thousands of journalists through our Health Matters webinar series.

Please join me in congratulating our 2020 Data Fellows:

Kate Bradshaw, Embarcadero Media (Menlo Park, CA)

Lakeidra Chavis, The Trace (Chicago)

Lydia Chavez and Annika Hom, Mission Local (San Francisco)

Jen Christensen, CNN (Atlanta)

Agnes Constante, NBC Asian American (freelance, Orange County)

Gabrielle Emanuel, WGBH (Boston)

Nina Feldman and Alan Yu, WHYY Philadelphia

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk (Santa Barbara, CA)

Sarah Jackson, (freelance)

Sara Kassabian, The Oaklandside (freelance)

Rebecca Lindstrom-Baumann, WXIA (Atlanta)

Monica Lopez, Making Contact

Kate Martin, Carolina Public Press (Asheville, NC)

Claire Mitzel, The Roanoke Times

Lexis-Olivier Ray, L.A. Taco (freelance, Los Angeles)

Elise Reuter, MedCity News (San Diego)

Stacey Shepard, The Bakersfield Californian

David Wagner, Southern California Public Radio (Los Angeles)

Janine Zeitlin, USA Today Network Florida/News-Press/Naples Daily News 

To learn more about the USC Center for Health Journalism, go here.