Covering racism, health disparities in the headlines

Students learn about reporting on structural racism and health


By Jayne O'Donnell

August 30, 2020

Like the protests around the country, the Urban Health Media Project zeroed in on racial discrimination this summer. 

We held a series of eight workshops with nine students from Washington, D.C.,  Baltimore, California and Massachusetts. They heard from professional and personal health experts including Surgeon General Jerome Adams, former New York health commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah and patient advocates, community physicians, mental health professionals and people who have survived poor health, trauma and bias  

As they learned about systemic bias - in health care and society - and how it leads to disparities in both physical and mental health. They also learned how to take notes, do interviews and write journalistically.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, center, second row from bottom, was the first speaker at the first session of this summer's workshop on reporting on structural racism and health.

We looked at the underlying factors that contribute to the higher incidence of COVID-19 deaths in the Black and Latino communities — such as access to health care, nutritious food and housing conditions — and the ways social isolation has exacerbated existing mental health, addiction and trauma challenges. We also examined how these often-chronic health conditions together create huge health disparities in much of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

They are continuing to work closely with professional journalists and college interns as they complete their bylined articles, which we look forward to sharing on our site and in other publications around the U.S. Topics include medical bias, reentry during the pandemic, disparities despite insurance including Medicaid and language barriers for Latinx patients. 

In the last three years, UHMP students have co-authored or written more than a dozen articles published in USA Today’s print and digital platforms, along with many of its sister Gannett publications. The students have also produced several videos used by USA Today.  A recent patient safety story was published in the Washington Informer. 

In spring 2020, UHMP held a pilot four-workshop series on Medication Safety, Antidepressants and Suicide Risks for four high school students in D.C. A version of the article they reported and wrote through the series was published on the nonprofit consumer news site, which helped fund the workshops, and other versions and sidebars will publish elsewhere soon. 

Our workshops increase knowledge and change attitudes among the students. Their articles provide their communities - locally and nationally - with culturally competent coverage of important health problems that disproportionately affect people of color.