By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
A new project launching next month from Gray Television attempts to shine a light on a major issue exposed during COVID-19: the lack of health care resources in underserved communities.
Almost 30 stations from the Atlanta-based broadcast company hail in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia areas of the country, two impoverished U.S. regions that lack sufficient health care access. Multiple regional studies have confirmed that local residents lag behind national averages in most every health indicator.
“Bridging The Great Health Divide,” a new companywide series complete with its own website and smartphone app, will debut in March to connect residents in these markets with more adequate health care resources. The new reporting initiative will include stories from the company stations and list resources on the new website, all in an attempt to reach a new audience, said Glen Hale, vice president of digital content and audience development for Gray Television.
“The goal is to reach people who don’t already access our content platforms,” said Hale, the project’s manager. “We felt a new website was the best opportunity to reach as many people as we can.”
This new digitally focused effort will use local reporting staff as well as Gray Television’s Investigate TV team and Washington D.C. bureau to produce work that potentially boosts health care outcomes and overall quality of life for residents in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia regions over the next 5-10 years, said James Finch, director of news services for Gray Television.
“Our goal is to be solutions-oriented. We don’t want to just identify the problem, we want to pitch solutions,” said Finch, who is coordinating locally produced content for the project.
For example, he expects early coverage to focus on health care provider shortages, an issue for decades in both regions. Many residents drive an hour or more for emergency and specialty care, exacerbating common health issues, such as food insecurity, insufficient health care funding and lack of accountability for how limited resources are used.
New contractors were hired to help boost coverage, propped up in part by support from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge. The project will last through at least 2021, Finch said, with the goal of developing a long-term sustainable product.
“This will help the communities we serve but can also be a springboard to financial success for our company,” Hale said.
To help get the word out and ensure such success, Finch said local markets are enlisting the help of celebrities native to the areas to help ensure the spin-off website and Great Health Divide coverage receives adequate exposure.
“We’re trying to get respected athletes, actors and politicians to speak to these of these issues and help compound the positives,” Finch said.
After several unsuccessful coronavirus relief applications to other programs, the GNI Innovation Challenge provides at least a year of runway for the Great Health Divide project to establish itself, Hale said.
“And if it’s successful, this effort will go well beyond a year and become a template for other projects we can do — and other projects our peers can do as an industry,” he said.