When Valley Public Radio and other Central California media started reporting on valley fever last fall, the disease was commonly overlooked by medical professionals and government agencies. But as the Reporting on Health Collaborative – which includes KVPR and six other print and radio outlets in English and Spanish – began publishing more than 50 stories and blog posts, health and political leaders began taking notice.
The ‘Just One Breath’ series has also caught the attention of one of the country’s leading journalism industry publications. In August, the Columbia Journalism Review awarded the Reporting on Health Collaborative a ‘laurel’ for bringing attention to the previously overlooked disease.
The article acknowledged the series’ wide-ranging impact, noting that the CDC issued a report last spring confirming the group’s findings, and Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy formed a Congressional task force to study the problem. (Since then, McCarthy hosted a symposium on the disease in Bakersfield. The leaders of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attended the meeting, and announced the launch of a multi-million dollar trial to better understand how to treat valley fever.)
The article also commended the Collaborative’s cooperative – rather than competitive – spirit. It described how reporters on the project shared bylines, and worked to share resources. “What’s great about this effort is that by combining forces, regional news outlets can stay on the case,” wrote Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Trudy Lieberman.
Lieberman noted that the Collaborative’s work even resulted in coverage of the disease from other media organizations, including the New York Times:
If the California coverage did inspire the Times article—or a segment on PBS’ Newshour a week earlier—that’s fine with Reporting on Health editor-in-chief Michelle Levander, who told me, “We still want to break news, but if The New York Times and the BBC comes along and gives it a new look and other attention, I’m thrilled.” She said when Reporting on Health heard the Times was working on a story, they called the reporter and offered to help. One reporter from the collaborative continued the story by producing two NPR segments. Cooperation? Not exactly what most of us were taught in J-School, but then these times they are a-changing.
“These outlets coming together gave us a realization we can do more together,” Levander explained. And acting together, they have accomplished quite a lot. For bringing attention to a serious, previously hidden disease, the Reporting on Health collaborative deserves a CJR laurel.
The article concluded by celebrating the Collaborative’s sustained investigation of valley fever, and the impact of the reporting in Central California. “The press has certainly captured the attention of communities in California’s Central Valley for whom the disease matters,” Lieberman said. “That’s what good journalism still is.”