USC Annenberg announces Health Journalism Grants of $55,000 to fund coverage of underserved communities

The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism announced 20 journalism awards totaling $55,000  to support investigative and explanatory reporting projects on America’s underserved communities, whose stories are often ignored or overlooked.

More than 80 journalists nationwide competed this year for the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism grants as well as the National Health Journalism Fellowships – both programs of the school’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships. As part of the program, which is funded by a generous grant from The California Endowment, 20 journalism fellows gather this week in Los Angeles for six days of workshops, seminars and field trips that explore community health issues.

USC Annenberg’s five Dennis A. Hunt grantees will receive grants ranging from $3,000 to $8,000 to fund ambitious investigative or explanative reporting projects on critical community health issues. These include:  the impact of industrial contamination on workers and neighborhoods; the marketing messages that contribute to childhood obesity; barriers to dental care; the underlying causes of health disparities in border communities and barriers to health care in urban environments.

“The topics for these projects are crucial issues for our society. We are grateful that the Hunt Fund guarantees that they will continue to be covered despite the weakening of our traditional news organizations,” said Geneva Overholser, director of USC Annenberg's School of Journalism.

Dennis HuntThe Hunt fund honors the legacy of Dennis A. Hunt (pictured, right), a visionary communication leader at The California Endowment who was dedicated to improving and supporting high-quality reporting on the health of communities. Hunt died in a car crash in 2007 at the age of 60.

"We are very pleased that Dennis' interest in promoting healthier communities lives on through this memorial fund," the Hunt family said in a statement. “We look forward to important work from a stellar group of journalists."

"Each of these grants will support in-depth journalism that explores how our surroundings have a profound impact on our health," said Mary Lou Fulton, program manager, communication and media grants, at The California Endowment. "We are so pleased to be able to honor Dennis' leadership in health journalism by supporting this type of storytelling that he valued so highly."

The 15 other National Fellows will receive grants of $2,000 to support projects on pressing health issues in their communities ranging from diabetes to pesticide-related health effects.

Michelle Levander , director of the USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, said: “We are inspired by the great project ideas from this year’s National Fellows and Hunt grantees. Their work will make a substantive contribution to community health journalism. We are also so pleased to have this opportunity to honor the memory and contributions to journalism of Dennis Hunt, whose vision led to the founding of our program.”


Christina Hernandez, a freelance writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, will receive a $5,000 grant to examine a troubled health care system in a New Jersey city and local attempts to find solutions.

Kari Lydersen, a freelance writer in Chicago, will receive $8,000 to produce stories for the Chicago Reader, The Progressive and The Christian Science Monitor on the health effects of the goods movement industry on workers and residents.

Maureen O’Hagan, a staff reporter for The Seattle Times in Seattle, will receive $3,000 for a project exploring the role food marketing has played in the childhood obesity epidemic and efforts to combat it.

Mary Otto, a freelance writer for the Washington Post and editor-in-chief of Street Sense, will receive $5,000 to explore the impact of untreated dental disease in Maryland and community health reform efforts to address it.

Emily Ramshaw, an assistant managing editor and investigative reporter at The Texas Tribune in Austin, will receive $4,000 to analyze efforts to improve public health in colonias -- 2,300 unincorporated and isolated border towns.


Alicia DeLeon-Torres, a freelance journalist in San Diego, will produce stories on Filipino American gangs and problem gambling in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities for The Filipino Press.

Pedro F. Frisneda, health editor of El Diario/La Prensa in New York City, will explore several serious threats to the health of Latinos in the United States: disparities in health care access and outcomes; obesity and diabetes; and HIV/AIDS.

Joy Horowitz, a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, will explore the connection between the use pesticides and the high rate of Parkinson's disease in California’s Central Valley for Sierra magazine.

Danielle Ivory, a reporter for the Huffington Post Investigative Fund in Washington, D.C., will examine how the overwhelmed and problem-plagued Medicaid system can serve millions more Americans with its expanded role under health care reform.

Lisa Jones, a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado, will write pieces for High Country News and Indian Country Today that explore the health impact of the construction of the Garrison Dam on residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

Alison Knezevich, a state government reporter for The Charleston Gazette, will explore prescription drug abuse in West Virginia, a state hard hit by an epidemic of painkiller abuse.

Heather May, a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, will look at why children in some racially diverse neighborhoods in Salt Lake County are more likely than their neighbors to be born with birth defects, die from prematurity or SIDS or be hospitalized for asthma.

Gregory Mellen Jr., an editor at the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, will use personal stories to explore mental illness and treatment in the city’s Cambodian refugee community.

Linda Carolina Pérez, a health and education reporter for Mundo Hispánico in Atlanta will explore the challenges to accessing health care for Latino immigrants.

Rochelle Sharp, a freelance reporter in Boston, will look at the reasons for women's declining life expectancy in some U.S. counties for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Elizabeth Simpson , the medical reporter at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, will examine the contributing factors to infant mortality in African American neighborhoods throughout the Hampton Roads region.

Carol Smith, a Seattle-based reporter for InvestigateWest, will take a look at the health of predominantly minority communities that live and work along the Duwamish River in Seattle. 

Frank Sotomayor, a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, will look at the reasons for the shortage of donor organs in southern California for La Opinion, Nguoi Viet Daily News and LA Beez.

Mark Taylor, a freelancer writer based in Munster, Indiana, will produce a series of stories for the Post-Tribune that will examine the high rates of disease, infant deaths and chronic health conditions in Gary, Indiana’s poorer neighborhoods.

Daniela Velazquez, an online producer and multimedia reporter at Tampa Bay Online in Tampa, will examine the social and environmental factors that affect the everyday choices people make, with a particular emphasis on obstacles to healthy eating and exercising habits.  

About USC Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships

Since hosting its first seminars in 2005, The Fellowships program has educated more than 400 journalists on the craft and content of health journalism. The program also provides grants to foster coverage of health issues through its Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and its National Health Journalism Fellowship. Last spring, it launched, an online community of journalists committed to improving the craft by sharing ideas and resources.

The California Endowment funds the program. The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation that was created in 1996 as a result of Blue Cross of California's creation of WellPoint Health Networks, a for-profit corporation. This conversion set the groundwork for its mission: to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. The California Endowment's multicultural approach to health is reinforced through investments made in local communities. Its work involves a dual focus: grant making and policy and advocacy.

The Dennis A. Hunt Health Journalism Fund is a project of the Fellowships, which Hunt was instrumental in establishing during his tenure at The Endowment. The fund is financed by memorial contributions from Hunt’s friends and colleagues, as well as The Endowment and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Grants were offered for the first time in 2009 and also will be offered in 2011. A panel of judges that included veteran health reporters, editors, health policy experts and health communications leaders selected the five winners.