Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards ASU grant to improve regional health care news

Man with stethoscope

The Cronkite School is the recipient of a $500,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide in-depth health care news coverage about underserved communities across the Southwest.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding a new Arizona State University initiative to provide in-depth health care news coverage about underserved communities across the Southwest.

ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is receiving a $500,000 grant to establish the Southwest Reporting Initiative, which will provide timely and accurate health news and information, in particular­ about Latino and Native American communities.

Cronkite News, the student-produced, faculty-led news division of Arizona PBS, will serve as the hub for the initiative. With news bureaus in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., a Spanish-language news operation and partnerships with leading media organizations, Cronkite News students will produce multimedia content on health-related topics and issues with a wide reach.

To lead the initiative, the Cronkite School will conduct a national search for two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Professors in Health News. The professors of practice, who will start this summer, will provide editorial leadership and guidance to students and engage with policy makers and health care professionals to generate awareness of the content being produced by the project. 

As part of the program, the Cronkite School will offer two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Graduate Assistantships to top graduate students to cover the full cost of tuition. Additionally, Cronkite will offer six $10,000 scholarships to high-level graduate students with an affinity for health journalism. The graduate students will be joined by upper-level undergraduate students at the Cronkite School in the program, which will start in fall 2019.

“A central element of ASU’s mission is to enhance our impact on the region and social embeddedness across our communities,” said Christopher Callahan, Cronkite School dean and Arizona PBS CEO. “This generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will allow us to address a serious health challenge in our region while providing outstanding and unique learning opportunities for our students.”

The Southwest Reporting Initiative will target Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Southern California and Texas, with a particular emphasis on Latino, Native American and Spanish-speaking border communities. Julia Wallace, the former editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Frank Russell Chair in the Business of Journalism at the Cronkite School, designed the new initiative.

Callahan said residents in the Southwest face disparities and inequalities in access to quality health care and health care information. The 2018 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program that spotlights health gaps across the country, ranks the Southwest among the country’s regions with the poorest health measures.

To reach policy makers, health care leaders and other stakeholders, the Southwest Reporting Initiative will create an e-digest, rounding up the content that is developed for digital, TV, radio and print. The initiative will utilize the Cronkite School’s Digital Audiences Lab to develop other engagement and outreach efforts. The Digital Audiences Lab is an immersive professional program in which students work with real clients to grow and engage stakeholders. 

The Cronkite School has an established track record of providing news coverage to underserved communities, especially in border regions across the Southwest. Cronkite’s faculty includes three Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professors, who lead in-depth student reporting projects in Latin America and around the world. They guide students in Cronkite News and Cronkite Noticias, the Spanish language news operation at the Cronkite School. 

Cronkite students also regularly report from some of the region’s Native American reservations. Coverage has appeared on media outlets such as “PBS NewsHour,” ProPublica and Indian Country Today.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been a supporter of other ASU health-related initiatives. The Foundation has sponsored research at ASU’s College of Health Solutions examining the spending of tax dollars on public health systems. ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law received funding to support its Center for Public Health Law and Policy.

The Foundation also has awarded numerous grants to faculty across the university to conduct health-related research.

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