mid-March when the first of the UGA health and medical journalism graduate
student flew from Atlanta to Reno on a reporting trip. Students in this course
do community journalism every year, but that usually means driving 24 miles for
an interview, not flying 2,450.
HMJ students followed, traveling alone or in teams, loaded with computers and
video equipment, clutching interview schedules and lists of questions begging to
responsible for one aspect of a larger story: can health professionals,
businesses and consumers band together to make health care affordable for
uninsured people? And can they do this by creating a nonprofit alternative to Medicaid
and costly commercial insurance? The students were headed to Reno because this
is where a novel program called the Access
to Healthcare Network has been successful for more than seven years.
All semester the reporters analyzed the unmet needs of low-wage
workers, small businesses, women, people with mental health problems, and those
blindsided by emergencies. They learned how hospitals, federally subsidized
clinics, nurses and community physicians could partake of a solution. The final step was planning and executing a
reporting trip to Reno.
The photo above shows mental health reporter Alicia
Smith, hospital reporter Julianne Wyrick and Jodi Murphy – responsible for the
small business beat – leaving UGA for their trip to Nevada.
reporting brought all the usual challenges: people who back out of interviews
at the last minute, misunderstandings about where video can and cannot be shot,
microphones that don’t work, batteries that poop out and motel rooms that are
less than swanky.
returned to Athens, the nine members of the “Betting on Reno” team scrambled to
fill gaps in reporting, struggled with balky editing software, and hectored
sources for last-minute clarifications.
semester ended and the dust settled, they had produced about 6,000 words of
edited, fact-checked copy and nine short videos. This is the kind of ambitious
multimedia series that few news organizations are investing in right now
the zone because the story is important. The Access to Healthcare model works,
and it fills a gap that is not going to disappear with the Affordable Care Act.
Within the coming year, 5,000 people in the Athens area will be deciding
whether joining a local version of the Reno plan makes sense for them.
reporters set out unearth everything they could to help Athenians make wise
Georgia Health News began running
the “Betting on Reno” series on May 13 and will publish new stories every Monday
and Thursday through June 10. This is serious journalism: no fluff, no
handwringing or partisan ranting, real stories about real people who are
sharing responsibility for the good of their community.
Dip into the
series and you’ll discover that the Access to Healthcare Network is less like
standard health insurance and more like a warehouse buyers’ club: a modest membership fee gives
people access to participating doctors and hospitals at deeply discounted
You won’t have to read far to learn that in early 2014, uninsured
Athens-area residents who fit a certain description will become the first
people outside Nevada who can purchase health and medical services this way.
realize that the “individual mandate” provision of the Affordable Care Act
doesn’t apply to people who can’t afford the cheapest plan on the state health
exchange. For these people, a medical discount plan might be their best shot at
care they can afford.
Is this the “teaching hospital” model for journalism education?
Eric Newton of
the Knight Foundation, along with other foundation executives engaged with
journalism schools, stirred the pot last August by calling on schools to adopt
hospital" model for training tomorrow’s journalists. He advocated embedding
big name national news people in J-schools where they would lead student investigations
of major topics, generating stories suitable for national distribution. The News21 projects
are good examples of this.
Reno” is different. It is more like a neighborhood satellite clinic associated
with a teaching hospital. As a Knight Chair, my
purpose is to be a practitioner in a sea of scholars. But I’ve been swimming
here for seven years now. Andy
Miller, CEO and founder of Georgia Health News and our prime media partner
for health journalism, more closely resembles the working journalists Eric
Newton had in mind. The teaching hospital approach wasn’t practical for “Betting
on Reno,” however, because Miller could not step away from his daily news
operation to spend a semester in residence at UGA.
So I ran the
course and Andy joined in at crucial points: helping the students determine
whether they had marshaled the right datasets for their beats, providing
political and historical context, and ultimately making thumbs up or thumbs
down decisions about publishing their stories.
key member of the editorial brain trust is independent writer and editor Sonya Collins, an HMJ graduate who runs
her own Atlanta-based business. She worked closely with every writer, asking
hard questions and helping make the prose a pleasure to read. Together the
three of us shaped the finished series.
you think this qualifies as a teaching hospital story or not, the “Betting on
Reno” series clearly demonstrates that collaborations between academic
institutions and professional news organizations can deliver genuine public
service journalism – empowering users and delving deeply into stories that otherwise
would be told superficially, if at all.