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Jan. 14, 2014, 5 p.m.
Reporting & Production

With Knight funding, Solutions Journalism Network wants to grow reporting on positive results in health reporting

In the latest round of the Knight News Challenge, Knight is awarding $2.2 million for projects focused on health and data.

solutions-journalism-networkThe Solutions Journalism Network wants to help newsrooms change how they report on problems in the community. As its name would imply, it wants to outlets find ways to report on solutions, ways to actually fix things — whether that’s poverty, early childhood education, or the environment.

With $180,000 in new funding from the Knight Foundation — as part of the latest round of the Knight News Challenge, announced moments ago — the Solutions Journalism Network will work to apply its framework to health care reporting. With the money, the Solutions Journalism Network will collaborate with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to provide reporters with data on promising solutions to health problems. In total, Knight awarded $2.2 million to seven health-related projects in this round of the News Challenge, which focused on health data and information.

knightKFThe new grantees cover a wide range of areas, including crisis counseling for youth, tracking prescription drug abuse, and a health information aggregator. The winners were announced today at the Clinton Health Matters conference. More information on all this cycle’s winners below; you can see the winners list here and all 39 finalists here.

The funding from Knight will go toward scanning the available research on health to find instances of positive deviance within the data. They’re calling the project Positive Deviance Journalism, and the goal is to uncover places where people are finding results fighting community health issues and have reporters apply that knowledge in covering similar problems in their area, said Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.

For example, a reporter in a city that has had mixed results increasing the physical activity in school-aged kids could use the network to identify places that have had better results with similar programs. With better information, a reporter could write a story that focuses on providing more concrete answers to those health problems, Rosenberg said.

In addition to the funding from Knight, the Solutions Journalism Network also received $122,000 from the California HealthCare Foundation. That funding will be used with a specific focus on reporting on health initiatives in California. The money from the News Challenge will go towards hiring an additional researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to help analyze data for the project, Rosenberg told me. The funding will also support newsroom training, she said — they’re currently reaching out to news organizations to form partnerships.

Rosenberg said newsrooms will benefit by letting reporters have access to information they were unaware existed. “Any problem you have is shared by other cities and someone is responding to it better than other people,” Rosenberg said.

The Solutions Journalism Network was launched last year by Rosenberg and several other journalists to provide a framework for reporting and writing stories that put forward answers to community problems instead of more questions. Rosenberg writes the Fixes column in The New York Times with Solutions Journalism Network cofounder David Bornstein.

The overall mission of the network is to give “credible responses to social problems.” It’s a concept many journalists would say is integral to their work, Rosenberg said. The difficulty often comes in how stories are pitched and reported out. Some reporters might be resistant to the idea of offering solutions because it feels too close to making personal judgments, she said. No journalist wants to look foolish or gullible in their reporting by offering solutions that might not work, said Rosenberg.

One way to get past those fears is through the use of data to bolster reporting. More broadly, Rosenberg said journalists will have to find ways to make offering solutions a regular part of their work.

“Part of our mission should be reporting on how people are responding to problems with the same degree we report on the problems themselves,” Rosenberg said.

This latest News Challenge comes as Knight is re-evaluating how it funds journalism innovation. (Full disclosure: Nieman Lab is also a Knight grantee, though not through the News Challenge.) Knight commits $5 million to the challenge each year, and in 2012 the foundation re-tooled the contest into smaller, focused events. Last summer, Knight Foundation president and CEO Alberto Ibargüen told attendees at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference: “It may be finished. It may be that, as a device for doing something, it may be that we’ve gone as far as we can take it.”

According to Knight spokeswoman Anusha Alikhan, another round of the News Challenge will take place this year, but the format of the contest is still undetermined.

Here are all this round’s other winners, which stray farther from traditional definitions of “news” than past cycles of the contest have — we spoke with Knight’s Michael Maness last year about that broadened territory.

Positive Deviance Journalism

Award: $180,000
Organization: Solutions Journalism Network
Project leads: Tina Rosenberg
Twitter: @soljourno

The Solutions Journalism Network seeks to broaden the role of journalism: it should not just uncover society’s ills, but also report on responses to those problems. Founded by authors of the New York Times “Fixes” column, the Network works with newsrooms looking to include regular coverage of how communities, individuals and institutions address challenges and what society can learn from such efforts. Using this framework, the Solutions Journalism Network will collaborate with partner newsrooms and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to scan data sets for “positive deviance” in the health sector— examples of promising health results that could lead to important stories. For instance, a journalist working in a city that has been unable to help people increase their levels of physical activity could identify cities that have succeeded in doing this and report on how the gains were achieved. Solutions Journalism Network will coach newsrooms to identify, vet, develop and write these stories.

Camden Health Explorer

Award: $450,000
Organization: Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers
Project leads: Jeffrey Brenner, Erek Dyskant and Aaron Truchil
Twitter: @CamdenHealth

In Camden, New Jersey, as in many U.S. cities, 1 percent of patients generate 30 percent of health care costs. Many of these patients arrive in emergency rooms seeking care for easily treatable or preventable conditions; they often face a fragmented, uncoordinated and expensive health care system. The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers addresses this problem by sharing data between the city’s hospitals and providers to better target resources and proactively tackle patient health issues. The Camden Health Explorer is the next step in this effort. The open source tool, built in partnership with data firm BlueLabs, will aggregate anonymous individual health and medical claims data, then display and map the results by demography and geography. Camden Coalition staff will work with local stakeholders, including hospital administrators, providers and policymakers, to ensure the data make Camden’s health care system more efficient and ultimately make patients healthier. The dashboard will make the tool available to other communities.

Crisis Text Line

Award: $350,000
Project leads: Jennifer Chiou and Nancy Lublin
Twitter: @DoSomething

Crisis Text Line provides youth with free counseling via text messaging. Over its 5 month beta phase, it has helped teens in crisis with more than 14,000 text conversations. Created by, one of the largest organizations in the country for teens and social change, Crisis Text Line provides intervention and live referral services from trained counselors, reaching teens through a preferred means of communication: SMS. With challenge funding, Crisis Text Line will launch the service nationally and create a national, anonymous database about teens in crisis to inform further initiatives in this area.

Homebrew Sensing Project

Award: $350,000
Organization: Public Laboratory
Project leads: Shannon Dosemagen, Jeffrey Warren, Mathew Lippincott
Twitter: @PublicLab

People are increasingly concerned about exposure to of hazardous chemicals—from formaldehyde in building materials to fumes from industrial sites—and their long- and short-term health impacts. To address this problem, the Public Laboratory wants to provide more low-cost chemical analysis tools, including simple devices that can be plugged into smartphones and laptops, so residents can measure the effects themselves instead of relying on costly labs. With its community of more than 3,500 active members, Public Lab raised $110,000 from more than 1,500 backers in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign to use DIY spectrometry tools to identify petroleum in sediments in coastal Louisiana and monitor emissions from oil refineries, among other projects. Knight funding will allow the lab’s Homebrew Sensing Project to expand, improve its hardware and software, and connect with citizens to collect data that empowers communities.

Ohana API

Award: $210,000
Organization: Code for America
Project leads: Sophia Parafina, Moncef Belyamani, Anselm Bradford
Twitter: @codeforamerica

Launched in beta in San Mateo County, Calif., by a team of Code for America fellows, this open source tool connects citizens with community resources through one centralized database. Ohana helps people locate social services, displays them on a map and makes the results easily printable. This database unites information on health, human and social services that are often kept in separate silos, such as paying for food, finding affordable health care or connecting with a social worker. Exposing the data through a Web API, the tool allows users to quickly access targeted community information through applications such as search engines, smartphones, or SMS.

Open Humans Network

Award: $500,000
Project leads: Jason Bobe and Madeleine Price Ball
Twitter: @PGorg

Patients today have greater access to their own medical records, but they are limited in their ability to share that information, which hinders the potential for advancing medical research. To address these problems, the Open Humans Network will create an online portal to connect people willing to publicly share data about themselves with researchers. The portal will include three components: a personal page that will allow participants to set up their data profile; a public data explorer enabling people to use data compiled from participant profiles; and a set of design guidelines for researchers looking to use a collaborative data sharing model.


Award: $208,000
Organization: Principled Strategies
Project leads: Patrick Burns and Paul Dubose
Twitter: @SafeUseNow

Since the 1990s, prescription drug abuse has significantly increased in the United States. However, a lack of actionable information about prescription drug abuse risk, despite the increase of state monitoring programs, makes it difficult to combat the problem. SafeUseNow aims to reduce abuse by making prescribing safer and more effective. The tool uses data to identify combinations of prescribers, patients and pharmacies who may be contributing to the problem. This information helps pharmacies, insurance companies and other health care stakeholders educate prescribers to more effectively and safely treat patients. It also allows them to monitor prescribing patterns for changes in trends and behavior. A successful pilot with one health plan provider achieved a significant reduction in key risk factors. With Knight Foundation funding, the team will scale the project for use by Medicaid plans in California and aims to spread around the country.

POSTED     Jan. 14, 2014, 5 p.m.
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