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Closing the Coverage Gap

Over the past two years, the Colorado Health Foundation (CHF) has watched the number of print journalists who cover health issues in the state decline by as much as 50 percent.  As a result, it was growing increasingly harder for the foundation to get coverage about work it is doing to improve the quality of and access to health care in Colorado.

To address this gap in its media outreach, the foundation turned to the Public News Service (PNS), a public interest news service that distributes radio stories for free to stations in 28 states, including Colorado, through its affiliate, the Colorado News Connection.

“With the decline of traditional newspapers and a shrinking news hole, we realized we couldn’t rely upon traditional print media alone,” said communications officer Sara O’Keefe.

As part of its sponsorship support, the Colorado News Connection agreed to listen to pitches from the foundation and produce and distribute stories that it considered newsworthy and met its editorial standards to radio stations statewide. (While Public News Service covers news generated from many sources, not solely from its sponsors, PNS will only cover news in a subject area where it has funds to support the reporting.)

Working with a Colorado News Connection producer, says O’Keefe, “is similar to working with any other journalists: you pitch your ideas and they decide whether or not it will play to their audience.”

And just as with working with other reporters and producers, the foundation did not get a chance to  approve stories in advance.

O’Keefe said the first story CNC produced, about physical activity requirements for grades K-8, aired on 41 outlets in Colorado, including a number of Denver stations and ones throughout the state, where CHF had traditionally had difficulty placing stories. (Click to listen.)

“We could not have accomplished this level of coverage ourselves,” O’Keefe added.

Their next story, about whether Colorado should use tobacco tax dollars to fund community health clinics, aired on at least 35 stations throughout the state. In addition, 13 stations took two sound bites and ran at least two versions of the story. The RSS story text or audio was accessed 133 times.

According to Becky O’Brien, a development associate for Public News Service, PNS has offered daily public interest radio content for the past 13 years. Last year it began a Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feed for local newspapers and TV stations that often use the content on their Web sites.

O’Brien notes that the service operates with strong editorial controls, and which sponsors have to agree to in order to work with the service. “We are not an audio news release service,” O’Brien said. “All editorial control rests with PNS.”

PNS has the most success getting its material used in rural areas where consolidation has severely reduced the variety and diverse voices in local programming.

“We think it’s essential to have [a presence] in neglected rural communities,” O’Brien said.

“With for-profit news organizations experiencing budget cuts, independent and non-profit news organizations can help fill gaps in coverage, providing a valuable service to these media outlets while also helping organizations like ours reach audiences with important messages,” said CHF’s O’Keefe.

–Emily Culbertson


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