LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 7, 2011) − The University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is partnering with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to help the state's journalists cover health-related issues. Institute director Al Cross says the partnership will help reporters get the information they need to do in-depth stories about health problems in their communities.
" What we want to help them do is take that extra step and do stories that aren't related to events and meetings," Cross said. "We want them to take a look at the nature of their community as illustrated by data on its health status. And there's plenty of data out there."
Under a contract with the Foundation, the Institute has created a blog, Kentucky Health News, that gathers health news and facts from around the state. Topics since the blog began in January have included prescription drug abuse in Kentucky, federal health care reform and health-related state legislation, health problems such as diabetes and obesity, conditions at nursing homes and more. Some blog items have appeared as stories in Kentucky newspapers.
The chief reporter for Kentucky Health News is Tara Kaprowy of Somerset, who worked for The Sentinel-Echo in London for five years as a reporter covering health and other subjects. In 2010, she was one of 11 reporters nationwide who participated in the Bluecross/Blueshield Health Coverage Fellowship in Boston, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
The Institute also is surveying Kentucky newspaper content to determine current health reporting."We're going to be doing that in an effort to better understand what kind of material papers are willing or not willing to run," said Cross, who edited and managed weekly newspapers before he was a reporter for The Courier-Journal. "That will give us some guidance as to what materials to generate and which direction to take."
A link to kentuckyhealthfacts.org, a website of health data compiled and maintained by the Foundation, is included in the blog website. Cross said this information, which includes health facts on the residents of every county in Kentucky, is a good starting point for journalists.
"There's a story for every community in that data," he said. "Our experience is, when you identify for local papers that their community has a particular health problem and give them an opportunity to do stories, many of them are responsive."
Cross, for example, reached out to newspaper editors to try and get them to attend a state summit on diabetes in 2008. He targeted editors in the 20 Kentucky counties with the highest diabetes rates. The personal approach worked; editors from three of the top five counties attended the summit.
"If you can identify a particular problem in a community," he said, "then I think we can get more coverage in Kentucky newspapers."
Some local papers, however, are hesitant to publish stories about health problems in their communities. Cross said preliminary data from the Institute's research indicate a reluctance among some rural papers to point out health problems among residents. He hopes to find out more about the reasons behind this hesitation.
"If a news outlet can't take a stand for better health and better health care, then what in the world can they stand for?" he said.
The Institute's partnership with Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is part of a larger health literacy campaign within the College of Communications and Information Studies. While the Institute's new partnership focuses on educating journalists about health issues, the College has launched a Health Literacy Initiative to reach the public as well. Cross recently moderated a colloquium series that brought together health experts to discuss ways to improve health literacy among Kentuckians.
"We're talking about making people more health literate, so they can make better health decisions and live healthier lives," he said. "We've always had a very good health communication program in the College. This is one area where Communications and Journalism are really working together."
For more information on the new partnership between UK's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, visit kyhealthnews.blogspot.com.