Equity & Health Reporting Initiative

Covering Equity & Community Health in the Time of COVID-19

The Equity & Health Reporting Initiative was a year-long project designed to stimulate ambitious and innovative news media coverage, storytelling projects, and community engagement activities in the San Francisco Bay Area that explore the complex intersections between individual and community health and the systemic inequities—particularly racism and economic inequality—that impact them.

Renaissance Journalism awarded $80,000 in reporting grants to four Bay Area news organizations in September 2020. The grantee organizations—CalMatters, El Tímpano, Ethnic Media Services, and KALW—were selected from a sizable pool of applicants based on a competitive RFP process, and varied widely in their size and geographic scope. 

The initiative was inspired by the twin crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement, which laid bare deeply rooted systemic inequities and racial inequalities that have long plagued our nation.

During the initiative, CalMatters reporters Jocelyn Wiener, Anne Wernikoff, Marissa Leshnov, and Erica Yee conducted an in-depth, data-driven investigation into the mental and physical health impacts COVID-19 has had on teenagers in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of East Oakland. “Of all the ZIP codes in Alameda County, 94603, home to Madison Park Academy, has been perhaps the most brutalized by the pandemic,” the reporters found. “It had a COVID infection rate eight times that of the ZIP code with the lowest infection rate, 94618, which covers the affluent North Oakland hills at the other end of the city 10 miles away.”

Image by El Tímpano

Also focusing their work in Oakland, El Tímpano collaborated with local news outlet The Oaklandside to produce a series of feature stories related to community health issues specific to the Latinx community, such as the widespread lack of access to in-language public health information. Additionally, El Tímpano designed and implemented an internal “systems thinking” analysis project in partnership with The New School’s Journalism + Design, a frequent collaborator with Renaissance Journalism. As part of the project, they interviewed readers and community members about structural challenges that might be contributing to poor health outcomes in the Latinx community in Oakland and identified the prevalence of overcrowded housing as a key factor. El Tímpano reported their findings from this ambitious project in a blog post.

Inspired by the national eviction moratorium and the passage of the CARES Act providing rental relief at the federal level, Ethnic Media Services worked with nine Bay Area reporters from various in-language media outlets to produce health stories related to housing and homelessness in their respective communities. Together, these reporters produced over two dozen stories in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese, related to stable housing as a key factor contributing to positive health outcomes. One such story about the criminalization of homelessness in Sacramento County was published by bilingual news outlet Chico Soul. 

Finally, KALW produced “What Works: Grassroots Solutions Around The Bay,” a podcast series highlighting local, community-led solutions to many of the health issues created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as food insecurity or a lack of trust in doctors. In one episode, for example, host and editor Sonia Narang interviews the director of the East Palo Alto Boys & Girls Club about the organization’s efforts to provide healthy meals and a socially-distanced, WiFi-enabled “learning hub” where students who don’t have reliable internet access at home could come to log onto their remote lessons and do homework. 

To support these reporting projects, Renaissance Journalism hosted an informational webinar on April 2 featuring two leading physicians and researchers at UCSF, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo and Dr. Rupa Marya, in discussion about the intersections of health, racism and systemic inequities. The webinar, entitled “Epidemic of Inequality,” was moderated by award-winning journalist Alexis Terrazas, editor-in-chief of El Tecolote. 

The doctors provided analysis and advice for journalists on how to explore and cover complex health and social justice issues such as systemic racism through the lens of equity. They also discussed recent developments in their research and community work that inspired new and innovative story ideas. 

The “Equity & Health Reporting Initiative” was developed with generous support and funding  from The California Endowment.