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Healthy City: New California site for advocates a great resource for journalists, too

Healthy City: New California site for advocates a great resource for journalists, too

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

The new Healthy City Web site, launched this week, is designed for community activists, but it's an intriguing data source for California reporters nonetheless, particularly if you're interested in covering the connections between your health and where you live. Social services beat reporters (are there any of those left?) will find it useful, too.

Healthy City describes itself as "California's information + action resource for service referrals and social change. You can search for community services, research and share community data, and consult our team for strategic advice."

The site was created by the Advancement Project, a group of civil rights, law and policy activists, in partnership with California's United Way chapters, the University of Southern California School of Social Work, 211 Los Angeles County and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.  

The site allows for mashups and GIS mapping of all kinds of data, including demographics, environmental conditions, availability of childcare, foster care placements, income and employment, housing conditions, crime, access to health insurance, disease rates, and availability of parks and access to healthy food.

At an online launch event earlier this week, Healthy City project director John Kim said the site's goal is "to make sure that communities and community advocates have the tools to make their own case for change. But he added that journalists could also use it to add data to, say, one family's struggle with the foster care system. In addition, journalists in the future will be able to look for story ideas and sources in content uploaded by activists, citizen journalists and participants in the Mobile Voices program, which has partnered with Healthy City.

The site draws its data from the U.S. Census, state and local agencies and some nonprofit sources, as well as frequently updated Claritas demographic data.

 You can slice and dice the data all the way from statewide to census block group. I played around with zip code- and county-level data. Be careful – one chart I created, listing percentages of disabled children in California's counties, had confidence intervals you could drive a truck through.

So, what can you do with all this information? A lot, but remember, the data is just your road map to the story, not the story itself. You're looking for outliers. Here are a few ideas:

  • Which communities in your region have the highest (and lowest) numbers of alcohol outlets? What does that mean for crime and alcohol abuse statistics in those areas?
  • What communities have the most uninsured people? What are their thoughts about health reform?
  • Where are children's asthma rates highest in your region, and how do families get their children the asthma care they need?

If you play around with this data set and find a great story in it, let me know in the comments or by messaging me through my profile. I'll feature your stories and other ideas in a future post. You need to be a registered member of Center for Health Journalism Digital to leave a comment, so if you haven't joined yet, click here. It's easy, quick and free. You can follow us on Twitter, too, @ReportingHealth.

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