In January, I became the lead reporter on the Health & Wealth Desk at KBIA, the public radio station in my hometown, Columbia, Missouri. The USA has a pretty robust public media landscape (although it has nothing on the BBC. In public media, we don’t have to worry so much about advertisements and "clicks" - although that’s certainly changing. Our focus is more on educational and explanatory journalism, and my challenge is to make important stories interesting through storytelling.
Working on the Health & Wealth Desk gives me a mandate to spotlight the connections between wealth (really poverty) and the health outcomes in my home state. We try especially to focus our reporting on rural areas where poverty is high, health outcomes are low, and there are not many journalists bringing the story to the public. The world, and even us Americans, tend to associate the USA with Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but in large swaths of this country things like premature birth and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world.
I don’t think the connection between poverty and health outcomes would come as a surprise to anyone who attended Waterford. During my time in Swaziland, and the trips I was fortunate enough to take around southern Africa, I was exposed to conditions of health and development I wasn’t familiar with and I wanted to talk about them with my friends and family. I see journalism as a natural extension of that.
I also have to say I wouldn’t be here if Waterford hadn’t taught me how to be a student, both in and out of the classroom. Waterford is where I really started reading and writing more seriously. I wrote so many 750 word essays for Mrs. Earnshaw that I started developing my own style of storytelling (probably to disguise how much I procrastinated during prep time). I also learned how to explore the world around me. I learned how to communicate with people who don’t share my language. I learned about finding the commonalities (and peculiarities) of people.
I still have fresh memories of Waterford. I met a lot of really great people that I wish I kept in touch with more! I’ll choose one, though. In my first week, during our orientation, we did projects in the community. My group went out to a farm and built a bridge! Really we just expanded part of a little trickle-stream to make it wide enough to drop a pipe into and then we covered it back up with dirt so you could drive a car over it. I got a real simple pleasure out of that day, being outside in the beautiful landscape and working with all of these people from around the world I didn’t know but soon would. There’s probably some symbolism to the bridge building too but I fear I’ve already become too romantic.
What advice would you have for aspiring students who want to be involved in healthcare or public health or broadcasting?
My advice for an aspiring health journalist is, don’t end up in the “dustbin”, and study hard for Mr. Opiem’s exams! Seriously, though, I think balance is key. A firm footing in mathematics and the sciences is crucial. But at the same time, some of the most popular books being written in the health field right now are about otherwise very good doctors having to learn how to communicate across cultures. It’s hard to overstate how important I find the human perspective that public health and especially anthropology can bring to medicine.
And as for broadcasting, this is a pretty exciting field because we really don’t know what our future will look like in 15-20 years. There’s some pretty terrible broadcasting going on, but the compelling stuff makes it all worth it for me. We need really smart people who are also really exceptional listeners.??