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2019 National Fellowship

Speaker Kate McLaughlin talking to Fellows about how children's brains are affected by trauma.
Program Description: 

Each year we bring 20 or more competitively selected professional journalists from print, broadcast, ethnic and online media outlets to the University of Southern California campus for an all-expenses-paid journalism institute. Each Fellow returns home with a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000, and for up to six months afterwards, senior journalists guide them as they complete ambitious explanatory or investigative Fellowship projects that impact policy and spur new community conversations . Click to read the hundreds of stories that our Fellows have produced over the years, leading to new policies and laws and winning journalism awards along the way.

Click here  for a list of the 2018 National Fellows and descriptions of their reporting projects.

At a time of dramatic change in the media landscape, our National Fellowship offers journalists a chance to step away from the newsroom to learn new ways of thinking about what shapes the health and well-being of vulnerable children and benefit from training that can elevate their journalism to a new level.  In workshops, field trips and discussions, Fellows learn from nationally renowned health experts, policy analysts and community health leaders, from top journalists in the field and from each other. Participants "graduate" with a multitude of story ideas and sources, a thorough understanding of the root causes of ill health, including trauma during childhood, barriers to health care access, the built environment, parental unemployment, lack of education, exposure to community or domestic violence and lack of access to healthy food. The program is practical and inspiring, focusing on content as well as craft.  We emphasize solutions journalism, journalism with impact and community engagement approaches that help journalists to make a difference.

The 2019 National Fellowship is designed for journalists who want to do groundbreaking reporting on vulnerable children and families and the community conditions that contribute to their well-being. Fellows gained insights into the latest research on how a child’s  development over a lifetime is affected by early experiences of trauma, including abuse, neglect, parental stress and community violence. Other workshops and discussions – with distinguished journalists, researchers, clinicians and community case workers --  delve into the impact of poverty on children, including food insecurity, substandard housing and parents’ economic insecurity. And we will examine the possible impacts on children's health and well-being of proposals in Congress to reduce social supports and health coverage. 

We will also explore the connections between health and place, or how neighborhood, work and home environments impact health, well-being and life expectancy. Fellows will learn about innovative prevention and clinical programs that suggest ways to address chronic ills. And they will receive advice on engagement strategies that can help to maximize the impact of reporting. We challenge them to engage more deeply with the communities their news outlets serve. 

The 2019 National Fellowship is supported by generous grants from The , the , and 

In conjunction with the National Fellowship, we administer two funds that underwrite specialized reporting and a third fund that underwrites community engagement efforts:

  • The  is a competitive grants program that supports substantive reporting on community health issues in underserved communities. Each Hunt grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship’s $2,000 stipend, to support reporting on a community health topic. The Hunt Fund supports investigative and explanatory projects that will broaden the public's understanding of community health – examining how poverty, race, ethnicity, pollution, crime, and land-use and urban planning decisions influence the quality of life of residents as well as innovative ways to address these disparities. Past grantees have explored themes including environmental health; chronic disease and its disproportionate toll on certain communities; access to care for diverse communities; health reform innovations and challenges; and transportation challenges that interfere with prospects for good health.  The Hunt Fund is supported by donations from and relatives and friends of the late Dennis Hunt, who co-founded the Center for Health Journalism.
  • The  supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, underwrites substantive reporting on vulnerable children and families. Each grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship stipend, to support investigative or explanatory reporting on the impact of poverty and childhood trauma. Reporters may also choose to examine the performance of the institutions and government and private programs that serve these families. We’re interested in proposals for projects that look at child welfare and child health and well-being, including, but not limited to, the impact of toxic stress; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; the role of policy in improving prospects for children, including those in juvenile detention; and innovative approaches to the challenges that children in underserved communities face.
  • The Community Engagement Fund provides supplemental grants of $2,000 to underwrite innovative community engagement strategies. Click here to read more about how we define community engagement and what we're looking for in community engagement proposals.  
Who Can Apply: 

The National Fellowship is open to professional journalists who work for or contribute to print, broadcast and online media outlets throughout the United States, including freelancers. Applicants do not need to be full-time health reporters, but should have a demonstrated interest in health, social welfare or child and family issues, broadly defined to include the health of communities (see more below). 

We prefer that applicants have a minimum of three years of professional experience; many have decades. Journalists writing for ethnic media are strongly encouraged to apply. Proposals for collaborative projects between mainstream and ethnic news outlets receive preferential consideration, as do projects produced for co-publication or co-broadcast in both mainstream and ethnic news outlets. Freelancers are welcome, but need to have a confirmed assignment and should earn the majority of their income from journalism. Applicants must be based in the United States. Students and interns are ineligible.

Each applicant must propose a substantive report project that can be completed in the six months following the Fellowship session. For the 2019 National Fellowship, we will consider proposals for projects that:

  • Illuminate or expose critical community health issues. Proposals can focus on a specific health topic or delve into a confluence of circumstances and conditions that impact health in a community, including environment; social class; crime and violence; urban development; access to health resources; school absenteeism; transportation or city planning; and racial, ethnic, economic or geographic disparities.
  • Explore child welfare, juvenile justice and child health and well-being issues, including, but not limited to, the impact of chronic stress and childhood trauma on child development; inequities in the juvenile justice system; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; childhood obesity; the role of policy in improving prospects for children; and innovative solutions to the challenges facing children in underserved communities
  • Investigate the likely consequences of proposed changes to the health and welfare safety nets.

Please Martha Shirk at [email protected] if you have questions about your eligibility or what we're looking for in a project proposal.

Why Apply?

Knowledge and Skills: During field trips and seminars, participants hear from respected investigative journalists and leaders in community health, health policy and medicine.

Workshops provide practical reporting tips, expert sources, community engagement strategies and informed policy perspectives on the circumstances that shape health or ill health in communities across America, with a focus on children. Participants also gain insights into how to document health and demographic trends in their local communities through innovative storytelling and data visualization techniques.

Financial Support and Mentoring:  National  Fellows each receive a reporting stipend of $2,000 to offset the costs of ambitious investigative and explanatory journalism or grants of $2,500 to $10,000 from our two topic-focused journalism funds. The grants are payable either directly to the Fellow or his or her media outlet. Journalism fellows also receive six months of mentoring from senior journalists as they usher their projects to completion.


How to Apply

Click here  for details about what's required in an application.

What Some of our 2017 National Fellows Said about the Fellowship

Bethany Barnes, The Oregonian: The Fellowship is a well-curated experience that provides a pitch perfect balance of inspiration, journalist speakers and experts and peer engagement. The brain development research was fascinating and something I did not know.

Ruben Castaneda, US News & World Report:  The program helped me think deeply about my sense of mission and obligation to portray diverse communities fairly and to give people in those communities a voice. It's reinforced for me the tremendous need to bring to light the issues facing distressed communities. I've learned new ways to engage with various communities and new ways to think about how to approach stories.

Lily Dayton, freelance reporter, California Health Report, New America Media: As a freelance writer, I sometimes feel isolated from the larger world of journalism beyond my desk. This Fellowship has given me the invaluable opportunity to network with a talented group of reporters, writers and editors. After a week of sharing ideas, encouragement and experiences, I left feeling inspired, encouraged and motivated—and much more connected to the journalism community at large.  It was an amazing experience to be immersed in speaker sessions, field trips and collaborative workshops related to topics of community health and impactful reporting—and then to draw from this experience to delve into an in-depth reporting project of my own. My professional network has greatly expanded from this experience. The material presented at the Fellowship seminars, as well as during the field trips, really deepened my understanding of how social factors such as poverty, racism and complex trauma affect the brain, behavior and, ultimately, health outcomes.

Tessa Duvall, Florida Times-Union: The National Fellowship allowed me to connect with peers from across the country who care deeply about child well-being and welfare. We all grapple with the same struggles and seek to tell the stories that need to be told. This fellowship week has been energizing in a much-needed way. Rethinking how we approach engagement is going to be my big push going forward. We can no longer think of it as separate from the act of doing journalism, but rather an integral part of covering and connecting with our communities.

Dara Lind, Vox: This Fellowship is not just for health journalists. This is for any journalist who wants to think deeply about the connection between telling individual compelling, dramatic stories and illuminating whole systems, scientific phenomena and communities. (And, sure, caring about health helps, too.) It's given me a bunch of tools and access to the brains of a few dozen really smart professionals; awareness of the neurological underpinnings of why trauma threatens mental health, and how giving people access to therapy can help them understand their own stories; and a toolbox for putting ambitious stories together and enlisting community involvement. The editor workshops with senior fellows were terrific. After 15 minutes of discussion, I had a much better understanding of what my project would take and how to maximize its chances of success. I had assumed that the ways in which marginalization hurt health were holistic and unspecific. Seeing some examples of specific neurological pathways, and specific communities with particular problems, helped me understand that it is sometimes possible to answer the question of how disparities happen.

Barrington Salmon, BlackPress USA:  This fellowship is extremely valuable. It brings together a talented diverse group of people who get the chance to pause, discuss our business and craft and learn smart ways to become better writers and reporters. I loved the ambience, the people and the process. This opened my eyes to all types of possibilities. I learned about enhancing the writing process and how to incorporate data into my stories. I also was reminded of the importance of having sensitivity to the communities I cover and the need to reflect the authenticity of the people I write about. 



The agenda for the 2019 National Fellowship is still being developed.

Journalists attending the 2018 National Fellowship took part in discussions about:

  • How conditions outside of the doctor’s office contribute to health and insights on the emerging science on fetal programming
  • How social and health policy under Trump affects children and families
  • How trauma in infancy and early childhood affects health, prospects and life expectancy and contributes to the development of chronic disease in middle age
  • Leading clinical interventions to address childhood trauma
  • How to report ethically on communities in crisis – with four veteran reporters
  • How to engage with communities and involve them in the storytelling, led by engagement specialists from ProPublica
  • How to manage big projects – with master storyteller Jacqui Banaszynski, editor of Nieman Storyboard  
  • The National Fellows also took a field visit to an innovative county program that seeks to address the unmet social needs of patients. Chronic problems – such as homelessness, hunger or domestic violence – can be the underlying causes of the symptoms that bring patients into county clinics.


The deadline is Friday, December 14, to apply for the 2019 California Fellowship, which provides $1,000 reporting grants and six months of expert mentoring to 20 journalists, community engagement grants of up to $2,000, specialized mentoring, to five.  


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