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Using Journalism to Battle Obesity and Diabetes

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism has been awarded a two-year $50,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to build a new model of consumer health journalism that will focus on combating obsesity and diabetes in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx.

Spearheaded by Trudy Lieberman, the journalism school’s director of health/medicine reporting, the program will use blogs, wikis and slide shows to reach children in Hunts Point who are obese and likely to become diabetic. Students working on the online project will also produce an in-depth report investigating the issues surrounding diabetes in the South Bronx and the information needs of the community.

A team of citizen journalists, comprised of schoolchildren, will also be assembled to provide insight into coping with the disease and its consequences. They will write blogs that will be posted online, which will include tips on how to eat right and keep in shape. CUNY’s journalism students will work with the kids to tell these stories, using simple audio and video equipment.

“Using interactive media, this project is unusual because it breaks new ground in developing consumer health journalism to reach poor populations,” said Lieberman. “It fits with the mission of our school to train journalists to cover the urban environment and the larger mission of CUNY to serve New York City.”

Hunts Point has the highest proportion of adults in the city with diabetes—17 percent. Nearly all of its 123,000 residents are black and Hispanic; one-third of them have no regular doctor. In addition, the New York City Health Department estimates that one in three high school students in the city are obese. Many already have symptoms of pre-diabetes.

“Traditional consumer health journalism with the detached voice of journalists and the middle class experts they quote is not a good vehicle for reaching the needy populations of the South Bronx,” said Lieberman. “The top-down approach of traditional journalism in unlikely to be effective at getting overweight teens to lose weight and eat vegetables.”

The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which opened its doors in September 2006, is the first graduate journalism school at a publicly supported university in the Northeast. The three-semester M.A. program offers an innovative curriculum that combines the craft and content of good journalistic practice while exposing students to telling stories in multiple media formats. Students also specialize in one of four subject areas: urban, business, health/medicine and arts/culture reporting.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

For further information contact:
At the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism:
Prof. Trudy Lieberman, 646-758-7804 trudy.lieberman@journalism.cuny.edu