CHCF Center for Health Reporting

USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

Turbulent times for newspapers have led to various experiments in ways to create and distribute high-quality journalism. The center collaborates with traditional and emerging media to report on the most vexing health care issues facing California.

April 2013

With the rapid migration of news and information from print and broadcast media to the Internet, traditional media outlets are struggling to keep up. Advertising revenues are falling, and new revenue streams from the digital world have not made up the difference. Thus, many media outlets have been forced to cut back, losing the resources to produce explanatory stories of high value to readers.

Cuts have been particularly severe among experienced reporters with specialties like health care. This is happening at a time when the need for cogent reporting and analysis of health care issues has never been greater because of the aging of baby boomers, the critical condition of our health care system, and the inability of politicians to agree on policy solutions.

The Project

In 2009, CHCF established the CHCF Center for Health Reporting with a three-year, $3,285,000 grant. The project was extended in 2012 for another three years with a grant of $3,725,000.

In keeping with the foundation's commitment to supporting unbiased, dispassionate, accurate news and information on California's health care system, the center operates as an independent news organization with no agenda but journalistic excellence. The center creates partnerships with traditional and emerging media of all types across California to report on the most vexing health care issues facing the state: quality, access, and cost.

The center is based at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, a leading institution devoted to journalism and communication, and their impact on politics, culture, and society.

The center's founder and director, USC professor Michael Parks, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning former editor of the Los Angeles Times. David Westphal, the center's editor-in-chief, has nearly four decades of experience as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Solutions-Oriented Journalism

The mission of the Center for Health Reporting is not only to spotlight health care and health policy issues, but also to examine possible solutions and to empower health consumers with information. Examples of this impact include:

  • A series in the Sacramento Bee revealed the failures of a Sacramento County program that provides managed dental care to Medi-Cal children. The stories showed how access under the program was at some of the lowest levels in the state — a result of some managed care companies requiring patients to wait months for care. The political reaction was swift: The state moved within days to demand improvements by the managed care companies, and the legislature followed up with new laws aimed at solving the problem. One of the companies went out of business weeks after the report was published.
  • Another series of stories in the Sacramento Bee and in other newspapers showed how the California Department of Health was releasing data on the incidence of hospital infections that was virtually unusable for health consumers. The following year, the department overhauled its data presentation, specifically aiming to reach consumers. To emphasize the consumer-oriented changes, department officials sought out the center reporter who had worked on the original series.
  • Responding to consumer confusion and lack of knowledge about the Affordable Care Act, the center launched a new question-and-answer column by senior writer Emily Bazar. The "Ask Emily" column is intended to answer basic questions Californians have about the ACA and its implementation. The column will run every two weeks throughout 2013 and into 2014 as the law takes full effect.

In addition, the center has received industry accolades, most recently for "Health Care 911," a five-part series with U-T San Diego that profiled frequent users of the emergency medical system. This multimedia story explored the disconnect between prevention and care that has increased burdens on the system and costs to the public. Available online and as an iBook, the project received second prize for the NPPA's Best of Photojournalism 2013 Multimedia in the tablet/mobile delivery category and was also nominated for a regional Emmy award.

See the right column of this page for recent reports from the center, or visit the Center for Health Reporting.

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