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Improving Global Health Journalism in the Northwest

Over the past decade, Washington State has become a leading center for global health activities. At the same time this new economic engine created 3,000 jobs and generated several billion dollars in annual revenue, news coverage has dwindled as cash-strapped local news organizations cut staff, reassigned reporters, or closed down altogether.

In general, academic and nonprofit organizations have been filling the global health news void. However, since these organizations are answerable to the directors of the programs they cover, they cannot be expected to perform the same critical role as independent journalists, who can provide more objective, analytical coverage.

In 2010, a Journalism That Matters Working Group began exploring ways to improve global health news coverage in the Northwest. The first step was an audience research project that focused on a core group of people who are currently connected with global health through work or school. An online survey defined local coverage as follows:

  1. News about global health efforts based in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia
  2. General global health news that has an impact on the Northwest
  3. News about Northwest residents working in global health around the world

Survey respondents were affiliated with 63 organizations in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, which spanned the academic, nonprofit, healthcare, government, and student sectors. The findings suggest there is strong interest in a service dedicated to providing critical news about global health activities in the Northwest. Most people preferred an online service and/or email that delivers the following once a week:

  • Original news coverage by professional journalists
  • Original stories by individuals in developing nations
  • Curated news from multiple sources by professional editors
  • Professional reporting from conferences and events
  • Columns by global thought leaders and local executives

In general, the respondents expressed a desire for broad, deep, and critical coverage across a wide range of topics and the following types of content:

  • International topics covered from a local perspective
  • Successes and challenges
  • Profiles of people, organizations, programs and projects
  • Scientific research news

In January 2011, the JTM Working Group presented its findings at the University of Washington in Seattle to journalists who currently cover the global health sector and other interested parties. Following a discussion, the group decided to move forward and explore a possible global health news service for the Northwest. The next steps include inviting more people to join the conversation, seeking grant funding for the planning phase, defining project requirements based on the survey results and other inputs, and perhaps developing a business plan for sustainable local journalism in collaboration with the UW business school.

Click here to download the final report.

The JTM Global Health Working Group that produced the audience research report includes Seattle Times Reporter Sanjay Bhatt, LocalHealthGuide Publisher and M.D. Michael McCarthy, Regional Director Joe Anderson from Forum One Communications, Communications Specialist Bobbi Nodell from the University of Washington Department of Global Health, Director Brian Glanz from the Open Science Federation, and JTM Global Health Project Director Pamela Kilborn-Miller.

PHOTO ABOVE: From left to right: Pamela Kilborn-Miller, Joe Anderson, Michael McCarthy, Brian Glanz, Autumn Walker, Sanjay Bhatt, Kristi Heim, Jim Simon, and Tom Paulson.