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Grant expands health journalism

1/13/2009 © Health News Florida

A national journalism foundation announced Wednesday a $302,000 grant that will enable Health News Florida to expand its original reporting in Miami, Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida.

The two-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami was awarded to the Health Foundation of South Florida, which serves as fiscal agent for the non-profit news service. 

Health Foundation of South Florida is one of three foundations in the state that provided seed money to launch the news service as a pilot project in March 2007. A total of eight foundations in the state awarded grants of $10,000 to $25,000 within the past year (see About Us), enabling the free five-day-a-week publication to include original articles on most days.

The Health News Florida project was among 24 named as winners from a competition the Knight Foundation opened to all community- and place-based foundations. Knight provided $4.3 million in total funding for the community projects, according to a  press release on the foundation's Web site.
Three  other Florida projects also received grants, according to the site:

--Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice received $352,000 to build The Florida Independent , an online news network for investigative reporting on subjects that are under-covered at the state level.

--Coral Gables Community Foundation received $130,000 for, a news site by and about older residents, to partner with the University of Miami and Miami Herald.

--The Community Foundation of North Florida received $72,000 for“The Village Square: We the People, an online forum and problem-solving Wiki based in Tallahassee.

With the economic crisis in traditional media forcing cutbacks in newsroom staffs, the Knight Foundation has used its Community Information Challenge program to help local foundations generate ideas for preservation of journalism.

“Information is as important to a thriving democracy as clean air, jobs and schools," Trabian Shorters , Knight Foundation’s vice president for communities, said, according to the release. "As leaders, local foundations are taking the initiative to meet those information needs. These projects help ensure that everyone has the information necessary to make decisions about their governments and their lives.” 

Health News Florida is governed by a grass-roots board of journalists, academics, and others interested in seeing health journalism survive.
The mission statement says it was founded to preserve coverage of serious health issues in Florida -- on cost, quality and access to care, matters of public health, environmental damage, mental health and more. 

As the state's major newspapers cut back their own news staffs and health coverage, founder and editor Carol Gentry said, she decided to go the non-profit route and seek grants.
Health News Florida was originally launched as Florida Health News. The name was changed in spring 2009 to avoid confusion with another publication with a similar name.

Before the non-profit news service was launched, the only people in Florida who were privy to important events and decisions on health care were industry elites and lobbyists who could afford pricey newsletter subscriptions, Gentry said.

"I'm excited that we can  now hire a full-time Capital bureau chief and offer better pay to free-lancers around the state who help us cover these  issues," she said. "It takes experienced journalists to write capably about the subjects we cover, especially health insurance."

Another important component of the grant, she said, is support for the development of marketing and advertising that will help Health News Florida move toward self-sustainability. The news service aims to follow the model of public broadcasting stations that raise money from the community and foundations to pay for original reporting.

Articles published in Health News Florida are made available to the public at no charge on the Web site and through once-daily e-Alerts in addition to being reprinted by newspapers statewide directly and through the Associated Press. 

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