New TXST program provides journalists, public with health data
Texas Community Health News is a new guide designed to help media organizations produce data-driven journalism that illuminates public health issues and builds resilient communities across the state.
According to the designers of the site, located at texascommunityhealth. org, the ultimate goal is not just to assist the media, but it is also to benefit journalism students as they conduct research, and others in the community who are seeking health data and information from one easy to access location.
TCHN Co-Director Kym Fox, a journalism professor at Texas State University, and Co-Director Dr. Daniel Carter, data analyst, said they are trying to bring more health reporting tools to the attention of local media outlets.
Fox said TCHN is a program of the university’s Translational Health Research Center, in coordination with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The effort is funded by state and federal grants, she said.
“As a former journalist, I understand that newsrooms have had to downsize– a lot of them, and there just aren’t as many health reporters as there used to be. Health is critical to everything … there are so many things connected to our health and every single person is affected by matters of health,” Fox said. “Essentially what we’re doing, we have a website. We have a lot of public health data that ranges from the census to race, ethnicity, poverty, poverty in children, how many people rent in your community versus how many people own houses–those kinds of things. Because those things are related to health, in terms of people's access and all of that.”
Fox said the site has typical sections that one would consider necessary for understanding various aspects of health data for every county in Texas.
There is data here on “depression rates, alcoholism rates, diabetes rates, access to healthcare providers, healthcare shortages, distance to medical care, distance to pediatric ICUs,” Fox said. “One of the things that we do is data analysis of specific issues in areas in Texas.”
Fox added those involved in the project are compiling data and writing reports that are fluid enough so that media outlets may run them as part of television news broadcasts or newspaper articles, always with the option to localize these to fit the needs of their own communities. In addition, there are charts and other visuals that can be packaged with the stories for a thorough presentation of health data and trends.
She said the main point of the health project is to get these reports out to the public.
“Anybody can go on there and create a visualization to embed onto their website or they could get a static JPEG [image] of it and run it in their publication,” Fox said.
Though the target audience is daily- or weekly- based media outlets, the site has the potential to benefit a wider audience. Kim said she could imagine advocacy groups using the news content, as well as those who just need an additional source of wellsourced health data.
She said it could be particularly useful for high school and college students writing research papers or other assignments with health as the criteria.
Fox noted as a journalist, she loves a good story.
“I love the fact that we can tell a succinct story, and we write it from the Texas perspective,” Fox said. “What I really like is that it is just add local, so here’s a story, here’s an issue that is affecting all of Texas. Now all you have to do as an editor is ask a reporter to ‘Hey call the volunteer fire department. See what they say about this.’ Because I’m giving you an expert. I’m giving you quotes from an expert. For the longer stories we have, I’m giving you a quote from an expert. I’m giving you some quick visuals that you can create… I love that I can say, ‘Here’s a story, here’s an issue that’s important to everybody in Texas.’ Now you, as an editor or reporter, can just click a button here and get a visualization that speaks to your community specifically about it, and then you can call a local expert or a local source and say, ‘Hey, what are we doing about this? What can we do about this?’” TCHN could provide an opportunity for incoming journalists as well.
“Also we are paying some interns to do some work. We currently have an intern in place at Texas Public Radio that we are paying. She is doing health reporting and other things at Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, but we have three other interns that are producing reports for us,” Fox said. “They’re actually going to create content - several short reports that will go out. They also are learning to be better journalists… As we also look at the way media is going, publications can’t afford to pay interns, so it’s hard to get an internship without experience. We’re both training interns and giving them some experience particularly data experience.”
Fox said that journalism is incredibly important at a time when studies show the public is more critical of the news and requires confirmation of accuracy and reliability, especially when it comes to health reporting.
“We need good, solid information out there for people, and information about health and the understanding that everything ties back to some of these health issues. We need to get that out there to people, and it’s hard for media outlets to do that sometimes,” Fox said. “Just like I think non-profit news is probably what’s going to get us through some journalism crisis, it wouldn’t happen without funding. I think that we can help individually-owned and companies that own newspapers and TV stations, by providing journalism for free– good, solid journalism for free– that can be localized to serve your community.”
Fox said the public needs to be able to rely on quality, fact-driven information.
“I think that’s what local journalism, especially, is good at doing, and local journalists need some help. We’re providing a service that I hope will lead to communities being better educated about where some work needs to be done, and we can hold public officials and community leaders accountable for why we don’t have this in the community,” Fox said.
TCHN also has a free newsletter available. Individuals who wish to sign up for it may go to mailchi. mp/4d8869ef8293/texas-community- health-news-signup.
“The website is where we house everything. The newsletter is essentially sending out stuff that we have created. We are creating everything. We’re writing stories. We’re doing data visualizations. We are doing a little bit of custom data analysis for some media outlets because what our goal is, my personal goal, to keep journalism healthy. So, we are trying to supply journalists with the kind of stories they need for the newsroom, especially small publications,” Fox said.