Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Health reporter covering Appalachia hopes urban media will continue covering rural health in 2018

In a wry end-of-the-year column for NiemanLab, Ohio Valley Resource reporter Mary Meehan looks back at the urban-based news media's coverage of rural America in 2017 and lays out a few predictions for 2018.

She applauds urban journalists for taking more of an interest in rural issues in 2017 (a trend which we note was largely driven by urban news media outlets' discovery that rural voters who felt ignored were the catalyst behind Trump's election). And she touts different organizations' efforts to lay inroads to rural America, such as The Neiman Foundation's new fellowship to support local investigative journalists, or ProPublica's new Local Reporting Network.

"My prediction is that this effort will continue to grow as journalists from different places join in the common goal of doing work that matters in the day-to-day lives of people," Meehan writes. "My hope is that this trend will evolve into a sustained exploration of poor health in rural areas, particularly Appalachia."

That's because rural health is a serious problem. People are dying from drug overdose in record numbers, and HIV and Hepatitis C remain a serious risk for intravenous drug users. All that and more is leading to a shortening life span for Appalachians, she writes.

"Sustained political will is necessary to make a tangible change and that begins with dedicated journalists laying bare the problems, but also highlighting the good work people are doing to change their communities for the better," she writes. That means more focus on the fallout of government policy votes. "In way too many stories, the idea that tens of millions of people could lose health insurance amounted to a throwaway line. Those are real people, people like my sister, who will literally die if she can’t afford her medicine."

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