News Startups Guide

California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting

A health newswire for the California press

February 7, 2012, CALIFORNIA — The California HealthCare Foundation’s Center for Health Reporting aims to produce investigative journalism “without an agenda” and publish these stories in various print, broadcast, and web news outlets across the state. Acting as an independent news organization located at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the center, founded in 2009, runs, where visitors can explore the dozens of stories and series produced by the center’s journalism team.

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    • Many of these stories have had a demonstrable impact on policy and awareness of health care issues in the state. A series on forest fires produced in collaboration with the Redding Record Searchlight explored how the way fires were combated negatively impacted residents’ health. Soon thereafter, the state’s forest service and its Air Resources Board changed their guidelines to make “human health” a priority in fighting fires. A series called “House of Blues” produced in collaboration with the Merced Sun-Star illustrated the mental health consequences of the state’s foreclosure crisis. Congressman Dennis Cardoza responded by introducing legislation that required a provision of financial counseling to effected homeowners.

      “We don’t focus on scientific advances or research and not as much on consumer health, more on policy issues that have resonance in California,” says David Westphal, editor-in-chief of the Center for Health Reporting. “[But] oftentimes they are topics that while focused on California communities, will have a universal appeal.”

      Westphal worked in newspapers for forty years and was the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers before relocating to California in 2008. (His wife is Geneva Overholser, director of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.) The founder and director of the center is USC professor Michael Parks, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times and 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of apartheid in South Africa. The center employs seven full-time employees including two editors, three print reporters, a multimedia journalist, and a broadcast reporter.

      The center is solely funded through the California Health Care Foundation, which issued a three-year, $3.285 million grant in 2009 followed by a $250,000 grant that same year to support broadcast reporting. The grant is set to end this August, and Westphal says the center is hopeful it will be renewed.

      The center has an annual goal of producing around twenty-four stories, and virtually all are the result of a partnership with California newspapers, online media, and broadcast outlets. “One of the things that is distinctive about our model is we’re very locally focused. When we start a project we look for local partners and we try to meet their needs in terms of news orientation which is almost always quite local,” says Westphal. Local news outlets do not pay for the content, though they will often contribute staff resources and travel time to the reporting. Outlets will also at times approach the center with ideas for stories.

      Although reporters update archived stories on with new developments, the website is secondary to the goal of developing partnerships with local media. “When the foundation was the sole source [of funding], they felt quite strongly that it should be an innovative thing that created as few barriers as possible for news organizations to be able to tap this in-depth reporting,” Westphal says. “That model has continued.”

California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting Data

Name: California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting


City: Alhambra

Maura R. O'Connor is a freelance foreign correspondent. This year she was awarded a Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship and will be reporting on American foreign aid from Haiti, Afghanistan, and Africa.