Originally Published: January 21, 2021
(Gray Television) – A story that will demand the attention of more than 100 journalists over many months must be important. Gray Media Group has committed to investigating the significant gap that exists between the health outcomes of people living in one region versus those living in another.
Bridging the Great Health Divide is a 2021 plan to use the power of journalism—primarily local journalism—to expose the health gaps that exist between the Mississippi Delta and Appalachian regions and the rest of nation. More than 30 Gray Media Group outlets are involved in the project, including 32 local TV stations, Gray’s National Investigative Team (InvestigateTV), and Gray’s Washington (D.C.) Bureau.
“These areas have long lagged in basic healthcare,” said Gray Senior Vice President for Local Media Sandy Breland. “Bridging the Great Health Divide will explore why these disparities exist, with a focus on long-term and sustainable solutions. We will also provide resources to help people make better-informed decisions when it comes to their personal healthcare.”
The project is receiving funding from Google and was announced as part of Google’s GNI Innovation Challenge—a program that seeks to support quality local journalism in the digital age. Gray Media Group is familiar with the challenge of reaching distracted audiences in the age of cell phones and social media. The work of Gray’s Health Divide journalists will be distributed across multiple platforms: linear television, mobile phones, OTT, and social media. The goal is to meet the audience wherever it can be found, not only presenting the problem, but offering solutions.
Lee Zurik, director of investigations for Gray’s national team, has earned many awards for work that measured its impact in the amount of positive change created. For Zurik, just stating the problem is insufficient: “These communities know they have healthcare shortcomings. So how do we get them to pay attention? How do we help bring about change? That’s our challenge.”
Understanding the audience is key to impacting the audience. Local journalists are in a great position to offer effective communication. They consume goods and services in the communities they serve, which gives them a personal interest in the health of their communities. Glen Hale, Gray’s vice president for digital content and audience development, is a project leader. He is from eastern Kentucky, the heart of Appalachia. “I grew up in the county where President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964. In the decades since, there has not been a lot of improvement in the infrastructure or the underlying conditions that lead to poor health outcomes,” said Hale. “This is a passion project for me.”
Gray will utilize resources of the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission, highlighting programs that are working and helping DRA and ARC with communication to their respective publics. Bridging the Great Health Divide should also include the expertise of regional college and universities, many of which are already doing research on health disparities. In addition, journalism schools in the region are being approached to provide content for broadcast and publication. The project’s content portals are set to debut in early March.