Global Health Reporting Fellowship

Six years after its inception, the Nieman Fellowship in Global Health Reporting continues its pioneering work of educating leaders in global health journalism and creating award-winning exemplary reporting that informs and inspires audiences worldwide. New collaborations with journalism institutions—most importantly the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting — and with Harvard faculty and students have allowed the program to deepen and broaden its impact.

Bringing a Global Health Leader to Harvard

Collaborating with the international news site GlobalPost and the Kaiser Foundation’s Media Fellowships Program, the Nieman Global Health Reporting program hosted an informative dinner in December at Harvard University’s Loeb House with Dr. Rajiv Shah, 16th Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID.

Engaging with a room full of journalists, Shah responded to pointed questions from Nieman curator Ann Marie Lipinski asking about USAID’s response to the current crisis in the Horn of Africa; what it is like to lead an agency that is chronically understaffed; and how he plans to introduce preventive programs and less reactive action to the agency.

Read more about the dinner, and a GlobalPost series on the Obama administration’s Global Health Initiative »

Shah also brought up the importance of global health reporting: “Being able to tell this story is something that frankly those of us who have been working for a while in global health don't do nearly as well as we should,” he said. “We need your help. As journalists, you understand the potential for great success. I do hope that you will write aggressively and often about this issue, every chance you get."

View photos below of the dinner with Dr. Shah and the workshop for global health journalists, "Global Health and Storytelling in the Digital Age."

Why On-the-Ground Work Matters

A Nieman Fellow who has an impressive track record of doing just that — writing aggressively about global health after seeing things first hand on the ground — is Samuel Loewenberg, a freelance
Samuel Loewenberg
journalist and Global Health Reporting Fellow in the 2012 class.

In November, Loewenberg published a story in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times about the international community’s failure to respond to the impending hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa before it came to affect 13 million lives, a man-made disaster that Dr. Shah admits haunts him more than any other, as he shared at the Nieman dinner.

In his story, Loewenberg reports: “A common misconception is that hunger crises are about a lack of food. Yet there is food in Kenya and Ethiopia, and even in many parts of Somalia. The real issue is poverty. The people affected are poor to begin with; when things turned bad, they had no recourse. In April the World Bank reported that 44 million people worldwide were pushed over the edge by skyrocketing food prices.

“Such a perspective is largely missing in our food-aid program. It’s like a health insurance system that waits until someone has a full-blown illness before he or she can get treatment.”

Shah called Loewenberg’s story “a fair piece” and thanked him for writing it.

Facing Up to the Challenges

But doing this kind of in-depth reporting is easier said than done. On the day after the dinner, about two dozen accomplished journalists focusing on global health, many of them former Nieman Fellows, came together at GlobalPost to talk about the challenges and opportunities they face when telling complex international health stories. The gathering was made possible with the support of the Kaiser Foundation’s Media Fellowships Program.

At the workshop, which in part featured GlobalPost’s Healing the World series and is described in more detail here, Loewenberg made clear that it was only after he had unsuccessfully pitched the famine story to more than a dozen media outlets that he contacted the Times’ to ask if the paper would print a piece examining why U.S. media was not interested in covering the starvation of eight million Africans — a number that quickly grew.

Overwhelmingly, his colleagues confirmed the dual challenges in global health reporting today of finding funding and presenting intricate stories in ways that mainstream media will publish them. Major obstacles include compassion fatigue; the lack of immediate opportunities for readers to help; lack of storytelling skills; traditional newsroom thinking that excludes health as a major foreign story; and the fact that some investigative stories uncovering abuse and corruption have the potential to undermine people’s willingness to give to the poor.

Solutions come, not surprisingly, from both GlobalPost as a new platform open to global health reporting and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting as a major project funder, promoter and mainstream media collaborator.

Blogging From the Field

Thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Center, Samuel Loewenberg was able to travel to Kenya to report on the hunger crisis. It was also due to Nieman’s collaboration with the Pulitzer Center that the
Helen Branswell

Antigone Barton
two 2011 Nieman Global Health Reporting Fellows, Antigone Barton and Helen Branswell, had a new set of resources at their fingertips this spring and summer as they prepared for and embarked on their fieldwork reporting trips.

Antigone Barton, a freelance journalist who had spent a year in Zambia as an ICFJ Fellow working with Zambian journalists before her Nieman year, returned to the country to report on challenges to HIV/AIDS programs there and how they exemplify the challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS across the continent. Her Pulitzer Center project page features and blog posts from the field. Barton is currently working on a magazine-length narrative about her work.

Helen Branswell, a medical reporter at The Canadian Press, devoted her fieldwork to report on the polio eradication campaign, with a special focus on a unique threat to the hard-fought gains of the program: Follow her blog posts from India, Israel and Finland, where she caught up with scientists who are fishing live poliovirus out of sever systems. The virus they are finding is reintroduced into the environment by a small but puzzling group of people who excrete poliovirus for months, even years after being immunized. While Helen is finishing a longer narrative on this issue, some of her work has been published on

Breaking Ground at Harvard

“How many people do we know, journalists, who can actually write interestingly about subjects such as demographics?,” medical anthropologist,
Rema Nagarajan
physician and Harvard University professor Paul Farmer asked his undergraduate class of 180 students in November as he introduced Rema Nagarajan, assistant health editor at the Times of India and a Global Health Reporting Fellow in the current Nieman class, and her blog, Staying Alive.

In a first for the college, Nagarajan, Samuel Loewenberg, and Global Health Fellowship program director Stefanie Friedhoff were invited this fall to give a lecture on Global Health Journalism in the core curriculum class “Societies of the World 25: Case Studies in Global Health: Biosocial Perspectives.”

Farmer praised the work of the Global Health Fellows saying that reports they have produced are of great interest to many of the faculty and students at Harvard. Those stories include NF ’07 Harro Albrecht’s reporting in Die Zeit about the Partners in Health clinic in Rwanda and NF ’09 Ronke Olawale’s reporting on the state of mental health in Africa.

In a lively discussion following the lecture, students inquired about how global health story ideas are generated; why fellows don’t just go and start their own newspapers in the face of pushback from traditional media; and good ways to get started in journalism.

Training the Next Generation

Connecting deeper into the fabric of the university, Nieman’s Global Health Reporting program also hosted its first intern this summer, Harvard college junior Alyssa Botelho, a joint concentrator in molecular and cellular biology as well as the history of science. A gifted editor and writer with The Harvard Crimson and the Harvard College Global Health Review, Botelho hopes to build a career in health and science journalism. At Nieman, she interviewed and profiled all former Nieman Global Health Fellows over the summer. Upon her return to campus life this fall, she succeeded in convincing the Crimson leadership (via the traditional Turkey Shoot) that it was time for Harvard’s legacy student-run paper — 138 years after it was founded — to formalize a science section, which Alyssa will help build and edit.