A new approach to health reporting

We’re developing a new approach to reporting about health in Douglas County.

It’s different from the way journalists usually report about health.

First, it’s a Web-based network in which Douglas County residents who are involved and interested in health — health care providers, people who use health services, businesses that provide products and services, social service agencies, religious organizations, state and local agencies — are the visual and functional engine.

In other words, we’re putting together a collaborative network where we have conversations.

Second, we’ve got a goal — to improve our community’s health. Journalists don’t define those goals — the community does. Our role is to help our community reach those goals, to examine the consequences of those goals, or, in some cases, look at what happens if we don’t make goals.

Health is a personal issue. Each of us makes an individual decision to exercise enough, eat right, choose a lifestyle that ensures a good chance at a long and healthy life, get regular checkups from a physician or dentist.

But health is also a local issue. Do we have enough clinics to serve everyone who needs medical help? Do we have enough dentists? Have we chosen the best approaches to deal with difficult issues such as family or dating violence? Are our school and health systems inadvertently further traumatizing children who are suffering from trauma?

These problems can only be solved if we gather the best ideas and provide the best information to come up with solutions.

So, we’re creating a place for members of our community to talk about issues, to form groups to solve problems, to set goals, and to follow through with those goals.

We all know that too many people in our community are grappling with difficult issues: no health insurance. Not enough health insurance. An epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers and young adults. Adults with chronic diseases that arise from obesity or smoking or drinking too much alcohol or working too much. Too many people suffering from depression.

At the same time, a lot of people are participating in healthy activities: planting gardens, buying food grown locally, starting organic farms, biking to work and exercising every day with Don “Red Dog” Gardner.

To start off, we’re thinking about focusing on four areas that affect much of the Douglas County community:

1. The thousands of people who are uninsured and under-insured, and how health care reform will affect them. Health reporter Karrey Britt wrote about a few of the uninsured in March in “Faces of the uninsured.”

2. Violence among people who are related or who know each other. Most people think of this only as a crime issue, and, no doubt, this makes up most of what results as violent crime in Douglas County. But violence has been a public health issue for a couple of decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to prevent it, we need to have a different conversation about it.

3. Wellness — Much of chronic disease results from lifestyle issues — overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, not exercising enough, indulging in too much fast food. So, how do we encourage, support each other and make it easier to live healthy?

4. Local food and nutrition — A big part of being healthy is food. You are what you eat isn’t just an idle phrase. The food that we as a community rely on also affects our environmental health, including air and water pollution and the health of our soil. How do we reach a healthy balance?

Our role as journalists is to help facilitate the conversation, to check the facts, to help our community come up with solutions, to remind the community when the stated goals haven’t been met, to provide information about the consequences of the goals that are set, as well as to celebrate when we’ve solved a problem. In other words, our role is to serve the community.

To achieve this, we’ll do solution-oriented instead of conflict-oriented reporting, be knowledgeable and involved, follow an issue through to its logical conclusion and provide context in the form of databases, useful resources, and backgrounders. We’ll correct our mistakes, answer questions, and create a safe place for everyone to talk.

We think this approach will help all of us in the community solve our problems more quickly, and to engage more members of the community while doing so.

The folks working on this from the World Company include Tony Berg, Brett Wright and Alice Brewer from advertising. Ben Smith from advertising and social media. Our Web and mobile wizards David Ryan, Christian Metts, Ben Turner, Eric Holscher and Charlie Leifer. Maria Preston-Cargill and Monica Taylor from marketing. Dennis Anderson, Caroline Trowbridge and Karrey Britt from the Lawrence Journal-World and LJWorld.com. Cody Howard from 6News and Denise Eck from KTKA in Topeka. John Taylor, editor of the Shawnee Dispatch and group editor for our other weeklies. Bert Hull from our magazine division. Jonathan Kealing, our LJWorld.com online editor. Ralph Gage, director of special projects, and Al Bonner, World Company general manager.

Our goal is to launch HealthCommons — that’s what we’re calling it now — in November. I don’t know if we’ll make it, but we’ll do our best. Each of us is starting to talk with people and organizations in Douglas County. We’ll be blogging here about what we find out, and about how we’re progressing. We want to be as open and transparent as possible about the development of HealthCommons. If you’d like to hear more, if you’ve got ideas, or if you want to become involved, contact us.

Thank you.

Jane Stevens

Director of Online Strategies.