Skip to main content.

2020 National Fellowship

Date and Time: 
Monday, July 20, 2020 - 8:00am to Friday, July 24, 2020 - 1:00pm
Program Description: 
USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism will offer training, grants and six months of mentoring in 2020 to help journalists and their newsrooms report deeply and authoritatively on the impact of COVID-19 on the health, welfare and well-being of vulnerable children, youth, families and communities.
At a time of collective national trauma, the 2020 National Fellowship offers journalists a chance to step back from breaking news and take a deeper look at how the coronavirus pandemic is laying bare pervasive social and economic inequities in the United States. Fellows will learn from nationally renowned health experts, policy analysts and community health leaders, from top journalists in the field and from each other. Participants will "graduate" with a multitude of story ideas and sources and a thorough understanding of the root causes of ill health and disparities in outcomes and why the pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on people and communities of color.
Now in its 13th year, the 2020 National Fellowship offers five days of informative and stimulating discussions, plus reporting grants of $2,000-$10,000, engagement grants of up to $2,000 and six months of expert mentoring as Fellows work on ambitious explanatory or investigative projects.   In all its training institutes, the Center emphasizes impact journalism, solutions journalism and community engagement approaches that help journalists to make a difference.
To ensure the health of participants as the nation continues to confront COVID-19, we will offer the National Fellowship as a virtual program over an online platform. The Fellowship will be held for roughly five hours a day (8 a.m.-1p.m. PDT/11 a.m.-4 p.m. EDT from July 20-24. In addition, Fellows will be expected to participate in four remote programs once a month from August through November 2020 of two to three hours each. 
For our 2020 National Fellowship, the Center is especially interested in proposals that investigate and to explore the racial, ethnic and geographic health disparities that are emerging each day for vulnerable children, youth and families as the pandemic proceeds; unequal access to economic relief and recovery opportunities; the performance of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit organizations during the crisis; how communities of color are faring differently; what risks “essential workers” continue to face; and policy options to address the longstanding weaknesses in our social safety net that have been thrown into sharp relief by this crisis and that create uneven outcomes and opportunities for our nation’s families. Each Fellow must commit to the publication or broadcast of the project by December 31, 2020.
Click here to read the hundreds of impactful stories that our Fellows have produced over the years, spurring community conversations, influencing policy and winning journalism awards along the way.

The 2020 National Fellowship is supported by generous grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The California Endowment.

Who Can Apply: 

The National Fellowship is open to professional journalists who work for or contribute to print, broadcast and online media outlets throughout the United States, including freelancers. Applicants do not need to be full-time health reporters, but should have a demonstrated interest in health, social welfare or child and family issues, broadly defined to include the health of communities (see more below). 

We prefer that applicants have a minimum of three years of professional experience; many have decades. Journalists writing for ethnic media are strongly encouraged to apply. Proposals for collaborative projects between mainstream and ethnic news outlets receive preferential consideration, as do projects produced for co-publication or co-broadcast in both mainstream and ethnic news outlets. Freelancers are welcome, but need to have a confirmed assignment and should earn the majority of their income from journalism. Applicants must be based in the United States. Students and interns are ineligible. Each applicant must propose a substantive report project that can be published or broadcast by December 31, 2020. 

While our emphasis this year is on the coronavirus, health and child, family and youth well-being, we will also consider proposals that do not involve the pandemic on the themes listed below. 
For the 2020 National Fellowship, we will consider proposals for projects that: 
  • Explore the disproportionate economic or health impacts of COVID-19 on specific racial or ethnic groups, individuals, families, communities or institutions (i.e. nursing homes)  
  • Expose critical community health issues or explore the influence of social, economic and environmental factors on healthincluding social class; exposure to crime and violence; urban development, transportation or city planning; barriers to health care resources; exposure to toxins; and racial, ethnic, economic or geographic disparities.
  • Explore child welfare, juvenile justice and child health and well-being issues, including, but not limited to, the impact of chronic stress and childhood trauma on child development; inequities in the juvenile justice system; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; childhood obesity; the role of policy in improving prospects for children; and innovative solutions to the challenges facing children in underserved communities
  • Investigate threats to the health and social welfare safety nets or illuminate health care innovations and reforms that benefit disadvantaged populations
In conjunction with the National Fellowship, we administer two funds that underwrite specialized reporting on domestic health and social welfare issues and a third fund that underwrites community engagement efforts:
• The Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism isa competitive grants program that supports substantive reporting on community health issues in underserved communities. Each Hunt grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship’s $2,000 stipend, to support reporting on a community health topic. The Hunt Fund supports investigative and explanatory projects that will broaden the public's understanding of community health – examining how poverty, race, ethnicity, pollution, crime, and land-use and urban planning decisions influence the quality of life of residents as well as innovative ways to address these disparities. This year, we anticipate proposals that examine such themes in light of COVID-19, although non-Covid proposals also will be reviewed.  Past grantees have explored local and regional environmental health crises; the disproportionate toll of chronic disease on certain communities; barriers to health care for diverse communities; and health reform innovations and challenges.  The California Endowment and relatives and friends of the late Dennis Hunt, who co-founded the Center for Health Journalism, support the Hunt Fund.
• The Fund for Journalism on Child and Youth Well-Being,  supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, underwrites substantive reporting on vulnerable children, youth and families. Each grantee participates in the National Fellowship and receives a $2,500 to $10,000 grant, instead of the National Fellowship stipend, to support investigative or explanatory reporting. The Fund seeks proposals for projects that look at child health, welfare or well-being, including, but not limited to, the impact of adverse childhood experiences or toxic stress; the intersection between partner violence and child abuse; the role of policy in improving prospects for children, including those in foster care or juvenile detention; innovative approaches to the challenges faced by children in underserved communities face; and the performance of the institutions and government and private programs that serve  vulnerable children, youth and families. This year, we anticipate proposals that examine such themes in light of COVID-19, although non-Covid proposals also will be reviewed.  
• The Community Engagement Fund provides supplemental grants of up to $2,000 to underwrite innovative community engagement strategies. Click here to read more about how we define community engagement and what we're looking for in community engagement proposals.  
Why Apply?

Knowledge and Skills: During seminars, participants hear from respected investigative journalists and leaders in community health, health policy and medicine.

Workshops provide practical reporting tips, expert sources, community engagement strategies and informed policy perspectives on the circumstances that shape health or ill health in communities across America, with a focus on children. Participants also gain insights into how to document health and demographic trends in their local communities through innovative storytelling and data visualization techniques.

Financial Support and Mentoring:  National  Fellows each receive a reporting stipend of $2,000 to offset the costs of ambitious investigative and explanatory journalism or grants of $2,500 to $10,000 from our two topic-focused journalism funds. The grants are payable either directly to the Fellow or his or her media outlet. Journalism fellows also receive five months of mentoring from senior journalists to help usher projects to completion.

How to Apply

Click here  for details about what's required in an application, including the link to the online application. Contact Martha Shirk at if you have questions.  In advance of applying, a conversation about your project proposal is strongly recommended.


The 2020 Fellowship program is still being developed. Here are highlights of the 2019 National Fellowship: 

  • Journalist Alex Kotlowitz, author of “An American Summer” and “There Are No Children Here,” kicked off the week with a keynote talk about the power of  “small, intimate, richly detailed narratives” to tell stories about big issues, such as the one he has focused on over and over in his work: how violence in their communities robs children of their childhoods. “The smaller the story, the more intimate, the more personal, the more detailed, the more it will stay with you — the more it will get in your bones,” Kotlowitz said. He calls it “the bigness of the small story.” The Center’s content editor, Ryan White, wrote a column for our website about Kotlowitz’s talk.
  • Harvard Professor Charles Nelson, known internationally for his research on the effects of childhood adversity on Romanian children raised in an orphanage, provided a crash course on how trauma and neglect affect a child’s developing brain and increase the risk for a lifetime of physical and mental health problems and antisocial behavior. “What we find is a very high rate of callous, unemotional traits (in children), particularly among boys, who have been in an institution,” Nelson said. Content Editor Ryan White, wrote a column for our website about Nelson’s presentation. 
  • During a field trip to Homeboy Industries, Fellows heard from its founder, the Rev. Gregory Boyle, S.J., about his strategy for helping former gang-involved men and women.   Two Homeboy Industries “navigators” – both former gang members—led tours of the nonprofit and shared stories about the traumas they’ve experienced during their lives and how Homeboy Industries has helped them come to terms with them and turn around their lives. 
  • A second field trip took the Fellows to the Wellness Center at Locke High School in a low-income, violence-plagued neighborhood.  There the Fellows learned about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s trauma-informed approach to students, which includes anger management counseling, on-site day-care centers for children of students as well as community members, services for families under stress because of deportation fears, and primary and mental health care in 15 full-service Wellness Centers operating on or adjacent to campuses. Three clients of the Wellness Center’s counseling service described how the therapists had helped them cope with such challenges as homelessness, suicidal thoughts and grief. 
  • After spending months gathering information, many reporters clutch at the challenge ahead of organizing it into a compelling project.  We paired 2016 National Fellow Kathleen McGrory and Roger Smith, a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, to provide advice about how to manage a big project. McGrory is adept at producing big, high-impact projects. Her most recent reported on the reasons for a rise in children’s deaths at John Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida, which was a finalist for a 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting.  Freelance journalist Susan Abram, also a former Fellow, captured their messages in a column for our website. 
  • Several other former National Fellows also shared their insights about reporting on disadvantaged children. 2017 National Fellow Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter for USA Today, provided advice on how to report on people who have experienced trauma without re-traumatizing them, a challenge she faced in reporting her Fellowship project, “Ashley’s Story,” about a young woman who was sexually abused while in foster care and then later had her adoption disrupted because of a furor over her adoptive father’s sexual orientation. And in a session moderated by Director Michelle Levander, 2016 National Fellow Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald and 2014 National Fellow Bob Ortega of CNN Investigates shared their strategies for ensuring that their Fellowship projects had impact.
  • Furthering our emphasis on engaged journalism, we teamed up Ashley Alvarado, director of community engagement at Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), and Ariana Tobin, ProPublica engagement editor and reporter, to offer a spirited session on how to produce journalism that engages and gives back.  The Center’s interim engagement editor, Danielle Fox, wrote a column for our website about their message. 

Here's what some of our previous National Fellows had to say about the experience:

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today: Many of the speakers and topics directly related to the issues I'll be spending the next six months on. But most importantly, it inspired me--not only making me excited to take on this huge project, but giving me the tools I need to make it happen. The overview of ACEs from Chuck Nelson and the clear evidence of their lifelong impact directly relates to my project about ACEs in teens and young adults who lived through Hurricane Katrina, nearly 15 years ago. In terms of practical advice, I have to say it doesn't get much better than Kat McGrory's incredibly detailed presentation on how to get the job done.

Issac Bailey, Myrtle Beach Times-Herald: This was one of the most worthwhile and impressive journalism programs in which I've been privileged to take part. The focus on health - and great, accurate, powerful journalism - is what this industry has long needed. I'm glad it's in its 15th year and hope it is around for many more so it can extend its reach throughout journalism. Being accepted into the fellowship has already made it possible for me to pursue a project I wanted to for years, but did not have the resources or network to make it a reality. And I know that's just the beginning. My editor and I will be sitting down with everyone in her newsroom and we will share what we learn. And we plan to do the same with other journalists from other outlets we may partner with. 

Brianna Ehley, POLITICO:  I came away from the conference inspired and armed with new ways to look at how to approach my work. I enjoyed hearing from former fellows who have executed some really important and meaningful reporting that has made a difference in their communities. It was inspiring to know that with this program's support, we have the tools to produce high-impact journalism at a time when it really matters. I've heard a lot recently about trauma-informed care and its importance but it was really interesting to see first-hand how trauma can really have adverse lifelong effects on a population and what communities are doing to address it. I feel very fortunate to be affiliated with this program, and I will definitely be telling all of my colleagues to apply for future programs.

Jacqueline HowardCNN: The fellowship has been incredibly valuable in helping me to frame my project, as well as providing me with tools and support in reporting on an important public health topic. The new skills and knowledge I will take to my newsroom include how to report on trauma in a sensitive way; how to use Facebook tools to engage audiences; how to launch a data evaluation study. The most compelling and useful part was hearing how former fellows used certain tools and approaches in producing their own previous investigative projects.

Lynn Bonner, The News & Observer: It's given me new ways to think about potential stories and how news organizations work with communities. It broadened my definition of health news and how to approach reporting on community health. I learned a lot about issues in community health this week - environments and tensions in other parts of the country I never would have known about.

Mabinty Quarshie, USA Today: The National Fellowship is an amazing program that gives journalists the training and resources they need to report on pressing health issues that affect our lives. This program has enabled to rethink how I approach my work as a journalist and all the change that is possible to impact through health journalism. I think that mostly what I will take back is that there are hundreds of untold stories that we can tackle if we are willing to look at data, or change how we do engagement, and go into underserved communities. Each session was great in its own special way. This has made me think more about what stories aren't being covered and what ways my newsroom and I can cover these stories.

Maria Sosa, Univision Miami: The Center does an extraordinary job of shedding light on very important issues, not only locally, but nationally. By choosing great journalists, and giving them mentorship along the way, the Center guarantees the publication of great stories that will address very important matters.  It has helped me broaden possibilities, and also it has been very inspirational to get to meet great speakers and veteran journalists.  

Mc Nelly Torres, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo de Puerto Rico: The National Fellowship has been a terrific experience and opportunity to focus on projects addressing important issues that affect our communities. I recommend this fellowship to anybody who wants to embark on an ambitious project.

Lee Hawkins, Wall Street Journal: The National Fellowship has provided me with a much deeper understanding of childhood well-being issues, which I can apply immediately to a story I'm working on. I will go back to the office with a deeper understanding of the effects of adverse childhood experiences and long-term societal consequences.

Jonetta Rose Barras, freelancer for Capital Community News: Sometimes we can get stuck seeing our work through a narrow lens. The week of training provided by the Center helped open my mind to new topics and new approaches, creating along the way a deeper appreciation for the work we do. I learned about the issue of trauma from a scientific perspective from people who are doing deep dive research, greatly informing future work I may do in this area. I learned how to build an investigative news package; how to handle government data to secure the information I actually need; how to build multiple sources using various platforms including social media; and how to fully engage those sources and impacted communities in my reporting. 

Marina Riker, Victoria (Texas) Advocate: I can't even begin to say how thankful I am for this experience. For anyone who cares about standing up for vulnerable populations and helping spur change in their communities, this program is incredible. I'll bring back information about research, audience engagement and reporting tools that can help ensure our reporting has impact.

Luann Rife, Roanoke Times: This is a terrific program that is focused on impactful journalism, which is so refreshing in the current climate. Lots of great information to digest. Many of the discussions, both formal and informal, will help to shape and focus my project.  

Binghui Huang, [Allentown] Morning Call: Attending the Fellowship is like going through journalism school for investigative reporting in four days. You learn the steps of going after a big story and see a lot of examples of how it can be done.  All the reporters who talked about their projects inspired me to plan projects better. I never thought about children inheriting trauma in their genes or in the womb. When I write about vulnerable families, I'll explain about the effects of trauma on their children's health.

Paul Demko, Politico: This is a valuable program that will provide the tools (monetary, professional, etc.) you need to deliver an in-depth reporting project that goes beyond the typical beat reporting. I will utilize reporting, writing and organizing skills that I learned – or had re-enforced – through this program. It deepened my understanding of child mental health and the profound ways that lives are shaped by forces far beyond their control. 

Amanda Curcio, Arkansas Gazette: The Fellowship is a great blend of informative sessions with experts, interactions with communities impacted by health issues and (sessions with) other journalists who can guide you through managing a tough project. I learned a lot of effective ways to engage people from communities that are often hard to reach.

Bailey Loosemore, Louisville Courier-Journal:  The National Fellowship asks a lot from its participants, but it's tailor made to prepare them for intense projects that require a lot of support. This program made me want to think deeper about my subjects and to really identify realistic goals. It makes me want to work more creatively and to try new things without fear of failure. At a basic level, I'll take back a few new keyboard tricks to clean data faster. And I've learned to adamantly refuse to take "no" for an answer. I was fascinated to learn that a mother's stress levels and nutrition during pregnancy can have lifelong effects on her child, putting them at risk for a variety of health issues. It made me think about my own childhood and how people can be naturally set up to succeed or fail.


The Center for Health Journalism is dedicated to supporting journalists covering two of the biggest stories of our time — the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism and inequities in America. We provide reporters with intensive training instituteswebinars and tips about craft and content and are providing deep and sustained support for reporters and their newsrooms in this historic and difficult moment. You can donate through the USC web portal at this link. Pressed for time? You can also text to donate! No amount is too small; just send a text to 41-444 and type the message CHJ for further instructions.


Follow Us



CHJ Icon