LJWorld.com weblogs Building a healthier community

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. http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Aug/16/reddogexer.jpg

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.


Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

Jane, I have long been very angry with people such as yourself because I think you are missing a very important point in all this. You are assuming that everyone shares your values. That if people just had the information and the money they would only buy foods that whoever has deemed healthy and exercise. I do not believe that poverty and ignorance is the reason for obesity. I believe that it is self-indulgence pure and simple. Give people more money and they will order more pizzas delivered and eat more from the deli or go to buffets more. Today is the ninth week of the new eating and exercising plan that I have set for myself. My daughter has played a huge role in this in helping me to find foods that I can microwave. Because of my health I cannot cook meals. I have bought bags of steamer vegetables of different kinds and soy meats. I am totally against eating meat, fish, eggs, cheese or milk because I consider it to be immoral and cruel to animals. I drink a lot of Silk soy milk and after nine weeks with no snacks of any kind, just three meals a day, that soy chocolate milk tastes incredibly rich. I still do not eat fruit because I just can't bring myself to do it. I am not sure why.

jestevens 8 years, 9 months ago

Hi, Irish -- Thanks for your comment. I believe there are many reasons people eat more than they need to, and that many people who are overweight regard it as a solution, not a problem. You're right -- information and money aren't the sole answers. We're drowning in information, and it hasn't made a dent.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

Hi, Jane, I lied early. My daughter drove me to Walmart and I got a pint of blueberries, bananas and peaches. I just get my back up when I feel like I am ordered to do something. I have a bad history with my mother, so when I overeat now I am spiting her. I eat when I am angry. Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? The death of Michael Jackson made an impression on me that nothing else has. So, nine weeks and counting. I am just taking this one week at a time.

jestevens 8 years, 9 months ago

It makes perfect sense, Irish. It's not an easy undertaking. Good on ya for working at it.

SarahVanDalsem 8 years, 9 months ago

While you may have already talked about this, I think reporting on health education and availability of accurate information is a must.

How are kids learning about healthy habits in school? Do families put a focus on teaching kids why veggies and fruits are healthy, or do they just some how trick them into eating it? What are some of the advertising tricks that companies go after in order to attract kids to their products? Are people at the lower economic levels receiving the same kind of health education as people in the upper and middle classes? Do we get our health information from friends/family, a doctor, the Internet, or the label on a box that says it's good for you?

The HealthCommons concept sounds interesting. There are tons of questions out there, so I wish you guys the best!

Karrey Britt 8 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department employees and I discussed this concept after the board meeting last night. They are very interested in seeing an interactive health Web site for the community. They are eager to participate and provide information. Things they would like to see on the site: events, data from health surveys, helpful Web site links, community forums on topics such as "How to Run that First 5K" or "Cooking with Diabetes" and blogs by doctors and health professionals. The top concern is making sure the social interaction is healthy and helpful.

Karrey Britt 8 years, 9 months ago

Jon Stewart, director of the Leo Center, said he is interested in helping provide information and value to the Web site. He is going to brainstorm with employees about how they can contribute. Stewart would like to see the Web site identify the health challenges that we face and then share stories about how people are overcoming such obstacles. He would like the Web site to steer away from federal health reform, which we have no control over, and focus on what we can do.

jestevens 8 years, 9 months ago

Sarah -- Thanks for your interest and the suggestions. You're right -- health education is important, especially for kids, and we'll include it in a local food section, for sure. Maybe some kids or schools might want to start their own groups in the HealthCommons network -- groups that chronicle planting a garden or a project that looks into which advertising helps and which doesn't help in eating healthy.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

When I was growing up we had treats on a holiday and only on the holiday. Rarely did I drink a coke and back then they came in 6 ounce bottles. Coffee was drank from cups not mugs. Maybe people would be helped by buying food in the single size package to get an idea of what that is. The Edwards frozen pies have slices that are about one third of what I would call a serving size. Buy a frozen dinner and then reuse the tray to get the correct portions. I have to measure things out to have kind of success at all. I am thinking of calories as I think of money, I only have so many to spend and that is that.

Karrey Britt 8 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence Memorial Hospital offers wellness programs and opportunities. This morning, the board heard about how the hospital works with businesses. The hospital is on board with this new Web site and concept. CEO Gene Meyer said he looks forward to providing resources and information.

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