Inspired By: The Commonwealth Fund and JAWS Health Journalism Fellows

By J. Kyle Foster

JAWS Health Journalism Fellows, supported by The Commonwealth Fund, are hard at work in the middle of their projects. With a deadline goal of  Oct. 13-15, when Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS) will have its Conference and Mentoring Program (CAMP) in Chicago – the fellows will be part of a CAMP panel discussing their stories.

The six fellows, announced in January, are freelance journalists and journalists employed at news agencies in the United States. Their fellowship includes a reporting grant to cover project-related time and expenses along with ongoing mentoring from two experienced health journalists: Naseem Miller, senior health reporter with The Journalists Resource; and Margarita Birnbaum, independent journalist and core topic leader for health equity at the Association of Health Care Journalists.

“The best thing (so far) was we all got together at the Association of Healthcare Journalists conference in March in St Louis,” the program director, veteran health journalist and JAWS member Liz Seegert said. The fellows “got to meet with their mentors in person.”

This inaugural class of fellows is working on stories with topics including period poverty and the Chicago public school system; youth mental health; rural health deserts; Black maternal health in Iowa; long COVID in women; and Medicaid in prison. They meet with their mentors at least once a month.

“They are making steady progress and they are having more firm outlines for their stories,” Seegert said in May. “The mentors are now helping them to really hone their focus.”

Here are the fellows and their projects:

Annabel Rocha of Il Latino News is writing about what’s called period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene and/or education. Her story is focused on Chicago and its public school system.

Freelancer Cecilia Nowell is writing about rural health deserts caused in part by hospital closings in rural parts of New Mexico. She is working with former JAWS president and KUNM news director Megan Kamerick.

“It’s all about those JAWS connections and who knows somebody who can help you,” Seegert said. “I love when those kinds of things work out.”

Chandra Bozelko. with The National Memo, is writing about Medicaid in prison. A former JAWS fellow, Chandra is working to tell the story through the eyes of the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.

Dana James, founder and publisher of the Black Iowa News is writing about maternity health for Black women in Iowa. Dana is looking at efforts to help improve pre- and postnatal care through the use of  doulas and midwives, as well as examining state policy, legislative and cultural changes needed to reduce maternal inequities.

Freelancer Lygia Navarro is writing about long COVID and how it is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed, especially in women and women of color. She’s focusing specifically on working mothers and how that affects both their employment and their ability to parent.

Michele Baruchmann of The Seattle Times is reporting on mental health insurance/coverage in Washington State – the needs, access and affordability  among Seattle’s youth.

“We’re also helping freelancers with their pitches and in identifying appropriate outlets and editors.” Seegert said. The fellows’ target date for completing their stories is Aug. 1 with a publication goal of Aug. 31 but before JAWS CAMP in October, she said.

Some of the fellows are also working separately with other grantees of The Commonwealth Fund, Seegert said.

JAWS is hopeful that the program will continue into 2024 to support another year of fellows.

“It’s been a great learning experience. I’ve never been involved in something from scratch like this,” Seegert said. “I’m very optimistic and hopeful.”