Sun-Star's health series partner names senior staff

The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism said it has hired top editors and reporters from around the nation to staff the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting, a new effort to expand and improve coverage of the issue across the state.

The Sun-Star has worked twice with the center. First was a series, "Sowing Hope," about UC Merced’s medical school, in late 2008. Then in January, the Sun-Star collaborated with the center on the series “Houses of Blues: The Extreme Stress of Merced’s Foreclosure Epidemic.”

The Sun-Star was the first newspaper to partner with the center. Since then, several other California dailies have done projects with it.“The center’s hiring of such blue-chip journalists simply reinforces the Sun-Star’s decision to partner with the center in its earliest days,” said Mike Tharp, executive editor. “We’ve worked well with the center staffers, we look forward to future projects with them and the addition of two McClatchy veterans to its staff should help all five of us five California McClatchy dailies do value-added journalism with the center.”

The center said David Westphal, former Washington editor for McClatchy Newspapers from 1998 to 2008, will become its first editor-in-chief.. Since September 2008, Westphal has been executive-in-residence at USC Annenberg, where his work has focused on entrepreneurship in the news business and new sustainable models for the industry.

The center said its mission is to build partnerships with media across the state — from established newspapers, TV, and radio to new media — to produce in-depth, explanatory reporting on health care issues of importance to local communities and the state.

The center is funded by a three-year, $3.285 million grant from the California HealthCare Foundation, an Oakland-based independent, nonprofit philanthropy whose mission is to improve the health and health care of all Californians.

Michael Parks, USC Annenberg professor of journalism and Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of the Los Angeles Times, directs the center and led the five-month search for senior staff. He announced the following appointments:

Editor-in-Chief: David Westphal, who supervised McClatchy's Washington and foreign bureaus and also led the editorial operations of McClatchy Tribune Information Services, which had more than 1,200 media clients worldwide. Before McClatchy, Westphal worked for 17 years at the Des Moines Register, where his assignments ranged from sports editor to Washington bureau reporter to managing editor, a position he held from 1988 to 1995. He has twice won the John Hancock Award for business and financial journalism and he also won the Washington Correspondence Award of the National Press Club. He has served as co-chair of the Freedom of Information Committee for the American Society of Newspaper Editors and was a member of the National Press Foundation board of directors.

Managing editor: Richard Kipling, a 24-year veteran at the Los Angeles Times where he held a number of editing and newsroom management positions, including serving as editor of the Orange County Edition and director of the company's Minority Editorial Training Program. Kipling joined the pilot project last year, testing the center concept, and edited seven newspaper projects across the state, including both with the Sun-Star.

Senior writer: Deborah Schoch, who covered the environment and health care during her 18 years at the Los Angeles Times. She was the lead writer on three reporting series completed as a pilot for the Center — two for the Sun-Star and one for the North County Times (San Diego).

Senior writer: Emily Bazar, who most recently worked at USA TODAY, where she wrote about immigration issues and the effects of the current economic recession. Previously, she worked for the Sacramento Bee, where she covered state government and was an award-winning projects writer.

Senior writer: John Gonzales, who most recently was based in New Orleans for the Associated Press and covered immigration and demographics throughout the South. Gonzales previously was the Hispanic Affairs reporter for Newsday, a beat that took him to Mexico, the U.S. border region, and other locales.

The goal of the center's staff will be not just to untangle the perplexities of California's health care policy but to focus on solutions for its problems, Parks said.

"This is a journalism of empowerment, based on the premise that you not only have to tell people there's a problem — but you have to show them possible solutions so they can act. If you just give them the problem, it's not fair," he said in a news release. The team also is excited that its expertise will be used to address an issue that is so immediate, Westphal said. "This is an opportune time, with the public's attention focused in an extraordinary way on health, to do some deep digging and research on heath care issues in California that really have meaning to people," he said.

The grant extends through August 2012, and Parks hopes at least 50 major projects will be completed by then. He will remain as the project's principal investigator and also will chair its advisory board.

Westphal said he will be reaching out to media organizations in California that are interested in forming partnerships with the Center. Those interested may contact him at (213) 821-0700.

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