Community Health and Collaborative Journalism on

When you ask people the most important factors in determining health, most would say health insurance or whether you have access to a doctor.

But when you look at the research, the most important factor in your health turns out to be your address.  Where you live, work and play are the most reliable predictors of your life expectancy and whether you’ll contract a serious disease.  It’s for that reason that The California Endowment, the state’s largest health-focused foundation and my employer, has placed a new focus on community health, the everyday environment that determines how easy it is to get access to fresh foods, the availability of nearby parks for exercise, safe streets, clean air, toxin-free buildings and more.

We were fortunate to find a kindred spirit in Daniel Weintraub, who has covered the state Capitol and public policy issues for many years as a columnist and reporter for The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register and The Los Angeles Times.   In search of a new challenge, last year Dan proposed an independent journalism startup that would blend health policy reporting from the Capitol with community reporting that shows how decisions made by lawmakers have a real impact on community health.  As Dan said, he wanted to create a web site where the policy world met the real world.  For more background, see this Q&A with Dan on launched last week, and it features an interesting range of content based on the community health lens, such as:  

  • A video report about how the city of Richmond is close to adopting a new way of planning for the city’s future, adding a “health and wellness” element to its general plan that will force developers to address new concerns when they design neighborhoods or other projects.
  • A comparison of Marin and Lake counties, ranked as among the best and worst California counties when it comes to health.
  • A story explaining California’s strawberry farmers have become overly reliant on pesticides.

In addition to conceptualizing health journalism  in a new way, Dan is also going about the reporting in a different way.

Dan is pretty much a one-man band, so he has to be resourceful, especially when it comes to community coverage.  For example, from his office in Sacramento, Dan happened to see a press release about $10 million in federal home foreclosure aid going to the Orange County city of Santa Ana, which came after $6 million in aid the previous year.  This seemed like a lot of money, and piqued Dan’s interest. So he called Norberto Santana, a former colleague who is now leading the forthcoming startup, and Norberto asked reporter Adam Elmahrek to take on the story.  The result was this article, which highlighted that after all this money and time, only five foreclosed homes have new owners and only two borrowers have been assisted.  As a local professor noted, “They could have taken that money, dropped it from an airplane over Santa Ana and it would have helped more people.”  It was a good story borne of a collaborative approach that is becoming the norm among journalism startups.

California is fortunate to be home to a number of ambitious foundation-supported journalism efforts.  Nearly all these startups are collaborative in nature, relying on networks of publishing and content-gathering partners to develop and distribute the good journalism they are creating.   In the new world of journalism, the “not invented here” way of thinking is going by the wayside, and that’s a good thing.


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