This journalism program is teaching young students to fight fake news about health issues - Generocity Philly

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Jun. 2, 2017 12:58 pm

This journalism program is teaching young students to fight fake news about health issues

Healthy NewsWorks just wrapped up its 2016-17 year working with local elementary and middle schoolers.

One of the newspapers produced by student reporters.

(Photo by Albert Hong)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Amy Krulik is the executive director of Kaiserman JCC, not Jewish Relief Agency, and that Healthy NewsWorks will soon become an independent nonprofit. (6/5, 3:55 p.m.)
As someone who’s spoken to the media on multiple fronts about the importance of vaccinations, including on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Paul Offit was pretty surprised at the ability of the reporters who interviewed him most recently — elementary and middle school reporters.

“They asked a series of smart, thoughtful questions — honestly not that much different from what I get asked by other reporters” said Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center and a physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

If anything, Offit said, “they were more responsible.”

Offit was one of the “health leaders” interviewed for the 2016-17 edition of the Healthy NewsWorks program, started in 2003 by former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Marian Uhlman to educate students in elementary and middle schools in the Philly area on how to report on health issues.

Uhlman, who spent almost 20 years at the Inquirer focusing most of her reporting on health issues like obesity, founded the program with her daughter’s second grade teacher “trying to figure out how to infuse a culture of health” with the students, as well as focus on writing.

Since then, the program has produced all kinds of stories. Each participating school has its own newspaper working toward “leading healthy change in our communities” — the tagline for the annual book that’s produced and was launched at an event held May 31 at the Merion Tribute House.

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See last year’s book here.

Senbagam Virudachalam, a 2017 Healthy NewsWorks health leader, with Lilyana, a student who interviewed her.

Senbagam Virudachalam, a 2017 Healthy NewsWorks health leader, with Lilyana, a student who interviewed her. (Photo by Albert Hong)

This year’s book had a focus on athletics and healthy activities, but it also featured folks like Anton Moore, founder of nonprofit Unity in the Community which is working to reduce violence in Philly’s neighborhoods.

“What we’re trying to do with Healthy NewsWorks is to cover a broad sense of what health is but also to recognize that we all have a role in the health of our community,” Uhlman said.

But in a time when fake news and distrust of the media are at an all-time high, Uhlman also stressed the professionalism of the program in the way it teaches students to always use experts and reliable sources for their interviews. When one of the 400 students who participated in the program this past school year got on stage at the book launch event to talk about his experience learning “always to write true facts and never write false information,” the audience gave a resounding applause.

Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, who was also interviewed as a health leader in the program’s 2013 book, was the keynote speaker for the event and touched on how public libraries are joining the conversation and effort in promoting public health in our communities — whether through the library hosting nurses and social workers for visitors or its new Read by 4th initiative to help increase the number of students in Philly entering the fourth grade at reading level by 2020.

“You can tell we’re an organization in transition,” Reardon said to the audience.

Healthy NewsWorks also announced that it’s going through its own transitions, as Amy Krulik, chair of the program’s advisory board and executive director of Kaiserman JCC, told the audience Healthy NewsWorks is on its way to becoming an independent nonprofit; it’s currently under fiscal sponsorship. This would allow the program to start expanding its efforts to more schools, Uhlman said.

“This 501(c)(3) thing is just the beginning,” Krulik said.

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