Frustrated with the lack of media coverage on public health issues, John Packham of the Nevada SORH approached the local Nevada Gazette to establish a bi-monthly column devoted to public health issues. The newspaper was very interested in this idea since they had recently reduced staff and were eager for anyone to provide local content. Since 2008, John has written over 100 articles with topics ranging from health reform to tobacco tax. All the articles can be found here.
John was given wide latitude to write about various topics from local issues to those topics focused more on a statewide level. The only restriction is to keep the article to under 500 words. “This has been a very rewarding process,” John explains. “I am used to writing long reports, so it was tough to distill the information down into 3 to 5 major bullet points. People don’t want to read dissertations, instead I had to focus on writing something relevant, succinct, timely and of interest to rural.”
The column has raised the visibility of issues across the state and with legislators. “At least one or two people each week tell me they read the articles and these are not always people that I would expect,” says John. He continues, “I try to take a fresh take on important issues that are sometimes driven by recent events, such as the recent Supreme Court ruling on the ACA, or I pull from a file folder that I keep full of ideas for future articles.”
To get started, it is as simple as a phone call to the editor of the paper. John encourages people to sell themselves on what they will be contributing is unique. Most papers have a healthcare reporter, but they do not focus on issues of importance for rural health. “Sometimes newspapers will write about medical technology or focus a little on public health promotion at the community level, but rarely do they focus on topics of interest to rural,” according to John.
If you are interested in starting a rural health column, send John an email. “This is such a unique approach to the information dissemination efforts of a SORH. It may not work for every SORH, but I hope that other SORH can consider possibilities like offering a regular column or article to small newspapers or radio stations or checking in with State Health Officers or other state leaders who could be a great voice for rural health issues with local media. Thanks to the Nevada Office of Rural Health for an interesting idea for information dissemination,” according to Teryl Eisinger, NOSORH Executive Director.
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