1. Taunya English: How I Got That Story

    August 28, 2015


    With support from the Solutions Journalism Network, Taunya English reported on Chicago’s success boosting human papillomavirus vaccine coverage. Her story, “How Chicago is improving HPV vaccination rates,” aired on the health-science show “The Pulse” in Philadelphia on August 3, 2015.

    How I found this story:  

    I’ve been covering health and the healthcare system since before the human papillomavirus vaccine was approved in the United States in 2006. I saw the initial excitement among public health experts, who were pleased to have a tool to prevent, not just a sexually transmitted disease, but cancer later in life.

    It’s been fascinating to follow the vaccine conversation ever since. Fights erupted over efforts to make the vaccine mandatory. Parents and politicians raised concerns about safety. The vaccine was originally approved only for girls and young women. Then, in 2009 as more research on HPV-related cancers emerged, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also cleared the vaccine for boys and young men. Vaccine rates remained stubbornly low. In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began using grant money and other levers of influence to nudge state and city health departments to increase coverage.

    Along the way, I covered local iterations of the story from my home base—first in Baltimore, then Philadelphia. This year, nearly a decade after the vaccine was first approved in the U.S., it was a great time to check in on the story again.

    Searching for Positive Deviants: 

    Early in my reporting, it was clear that a city or state would be a major character in any solutions approach to the story—but which one?

    Because early debates over the HPV vaccine were often tussles between liberals and conservatives, I suspected that public health departments with a reputation as “progressive” might have the highest coverage rates. Other reporters assumed that cities with large public-health budgets are inching fastest toward the CDC’s Healthy People goals.

    To cast the right character, I needed information—and a bit of time away from the grind of daily reporting—to dig into those numbers. The data team at the Solutions Journalism Network offered me both. The analysts pointed me to data sources I wasn’t aware of before and helped me synthesize the information. With their help I was able to shoot down some theories and back up others.

    Houston, Delaware and Washington, D.C., all had strong vaccine coverage rates and became contenders as a focus for my story. But with more analysis, it became clear that Chicago was doing something different.

    Chicago somehow boosted its vaccine levels significantly from 2011 to 2013.  The city posted a near 23 percent increase during a time when the rest of the state had an average 6 percent decrease. In public health change rarely happens so fast.

    To find out more, I booked my flight to Chicago’s Midway—and start making calls to map out my reporting trip.

    Reporting Strategy: 

    The pattern doesn’t hold everywhere, but in some parts of the country, HPV vaccine coverage levels are particularly low among low-income families and racial minorities. HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. And that cancer disproportionately affects African American and Latina women. Those two insights helped focus my search for solutions: What works to increase HPV vaccine rates especially among poor black and Latino adolescents?

    In Chicago, I asked that question in my interview with the health commissioner. I also spent half a day shadowing a pediatrician whose practice includes many Latino families in the Medicaid program.

    The CDC awarded Philadelphia and Chicago hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost vaccine rates, but many communities will never receive such a large infusion of money to work on the problem. I wanted my reporting to be useful for them too. So I made sure to highlight low-cost initiatives in Chicago that could be duplicated.

    That’s a solutions approach to journalism that I’ll carry with me into my future reporting.

    Chicago health planners are still sorting out which strategies have been most effective. But, the health commissioner said even before her city received a grant, she began to recognize and hold up as role models the physicians and other clinicians who have higher vaccine coverage levels.



  2. From the Editor’s Toolkit: Look for Openings

    August 28, 2015

    editorstoolkitcoverThe solutions journalism “Starter Guide,” featured in our new Editor’s Toolkit, offers seven best practices for how to implement solutions journalism in the newsroom. For the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of these practices on our blog. Where possible, we’ll illustrate how to implement them with examples from actual newsrooms. We hope these tips bring you a few steps closer to making solutions journalism a regular part of your coverage.

    Look for openings

    Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 7.35.46 AMAs news breaks, as reporters come to you with ideas, and as coverage plans unfold in daily staff meetings, be mindful of opportunities to bring the solutions lens into coverage. The simple question, “Is there a solutions angle here?” can quickly turn an editorial conversation toward a richer and more productive news strategy.

    At Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), the search for solutions underpins much of the journalism that comes out of the newsroom. An example: the issue of how police deal with the mentally ill has garnered a lot of attention across the country, as more and more stories about people with mental illness being jailed–and even killed–by police have come to light. KPCC covered the problem extensively. But as part of their reporting, they also asked the question: “Who’s doing it better?” Reporter Stephanie O’Neill found out that a police unit in their own backyard–the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit–was doing it better. Considered a model of mental health policing, the unit has diverted hundreds of people who would have otherwise landed in jail into treatment. She wrote this story about it (and reflected on the story here). Soon after, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office announced the creation of a mental evaluation bureau modeled after the LAPD unit. Shifting the line of inquiry and applying a solutions lens to the problem brought new insight to the issue that led to real change.

    We’ll be hosting a webinar on September 8 at 13:00 ET focusing on how to apply the solutions journalism lens to a law enforcement beat. Featured guests include Stephanie O’Neill, and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, Joe Domanick. You can register here.

  3. Webinar: On the Police Beat (9/8)

    August 27, 2015

    Joe and StephanieIn September’s webinar, we’ll be looking at journalism and the law enforcement beat. How is it covering policing different than other beats? What’s the biggest challenge? How have recent events like the police shootings in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Staten Island changed (or not changed) how the media covers law enforcement? What are effective programs relating to policing that we haven’t heard about? How can a reporter find programs that are working? Is policing an area where many solutions abound?


    We’ll be joined by award-winning investigative journalist, Associate Director of John Jay’s Center for Media, Crime and Justice, and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing Joe Domanick. We’ll also be joined by Health Care Correspondent for Southern California’s KPCC.org Stephanie O’Neill, whose recent piece “Police and the mentally ill: LAPD unit praised as a model for the nation” investigates how the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit is annually diverting hundreds of people away from jail and into treatment, and saving the city millions. SJN’s Network Curator Samantha McCann will moderate the discussion.

    Learnings Objectives:
    (1) Get a necessary overview of covering the police beat from experts in the field.
    (2) Learn about how to incorporate solutions journalism into a law enforcement beat.
    (3) Learn how to navigate the challenges of reporting on law enforcement.