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UW-Madison students, faculty part of community news project

October 26, 2009 By Stacy Forster

The debate over health care reform has dominated national headlines for most of the summer and fall.

Now, it’s Madison’s turn.

“This is an example of us being really interactive with our community.”

Deborah Blum, professor of journalism

Through the end of October, more than two dozen local media outlets, under the banner All Together Now: Madison RX, will explore barriers to health care access and the ways Madison residents are served — and not served — by the current system.

Among the journalists contributing to the community-wide project are students and faculty from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Department of Life Sciences Communication, as well as UW–Madison’s two student newspapers.

Local reporters contributing stories to the project are also drawing on expertise from such resources as the university’s Department of Life Sciences Communication and UW Health.

An in-depth reporting class taught by journalism professor Deborah Blum is reporting on several angles related to mental health care. Two of the stories written by Blum’s students will be published on the Web site for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization based at the journalism school. Others will run later in the semester.

“It really is the Wisconsin Idea in action in journalism, that we can work together, both professionals and the academic community, and extend the idea to the community,” said Brennan Nardi, who initiated and coordinated the All Together Now project. Nardi, editor of Madison Magazine, is a graduate of the journalism school’s professional-track master’s degree program.

The idea for the “All Together Now” project grew out of discussions between Nardi, Blum, Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders. They wanted to give local journalists — whose industry is in downturn and transition — a way to unite and show how their work can make a difference to the community, Lueders says.

“There was a sense among a small group of journalists initially that we ought to try to affirm our collective identity,” he says.

Daily Cardinal stories will scrutinize student mental health care and possible reforms to UW System student health policies. Meanwhile, the Badger Herald will publish stories looking at coverage under student health plans.

In addition to the student projects, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism will run a report on barriers to treatment faced by low-income women with perinatal depression, based in part on research done by Whitney Witt, assistant professor of population health sciences.

Two life sciences communication students are also working with Nardi to help pull the project together.

Other media involved include the Capital Times, Isthmus, Madison Times, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, WTDY-AM, WISC-TV, La Comunidad News, Voz Latina and others.

Campus experts in health care and policy are also being tapped by journalists putting together their stories. Bret Shaw, assistant professor of life sciences communication, was interviewed on his research on how online health education helps people with cancer and substance abuse disorders. Meanwhile, other UW physicians and faculty from the School of Medicine and Public Health are offering knowledge about such issues as depression among new mothers, primary care, and obesity and diabetes.

Collaborative efforts among news outlets, including the involvement of journalism students, are being viewed as part of the future of journalism. “All Together Now” has gained national attention for its pioneering approach.

“This is an example of us being really interactive with our community,” Blum said of the university’s role.