Dear Friend of KHI:
We recently completed the fifth year of operating the KHI News Service, a bold experiment launched just before the 2007 Kansas legislative session. Now seems like a good time to reflect on why we started the News Service in the first place and to assess its impact.
KHI was already a trusted source of information for policymakers when we started the News Service. But we were looking for ways to better serve our existing audiences and to reach new ones.
KHI’s only product at the time was — and remains today — timely, relevant and objective information that is useful in the policymaking process. Just like our policy briefs, research reports and educational sessions, our news coverage was built on a commitment to the same level of excellence and objectivity. Our goal is to inform the debate and provide useful information, not to advance a specific political agenda.
At the time we were considering our options, traditional media outlets were struggling. Newsrooms were shrinking, and so was coverage of important health policy issues. After considerable planning, the event that eventually compelled us to start the News Service was the creation of the Kansas Health Policy Authority. It represented a substantial shift in health policy in our state, but it received relatively little media attention. And what coverage there was focused on the political debate, not the policy issues.
Since we launched the News Service, things have continued to change in the media world. Newspapers are in survival mode as they try to identify new business models that are both sustainable and profitable.
Nonprofit journalism, especially in the area of health policy, has begun to develop in many parts of the country. A 2010 report on the emergence of nonprofit health journalism begins with a case study of the KHI News Service. Kaiser Health News was launched as a national news service, and regional efforts have taken hold in Texas, California, Florida and other states.
The KHI News Service has not tread lightly. We have added to our news staff, developed a partnership with Kansas Public Radio, expanded coverage of the Kansas City area through a partnership with the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, and helped start a fellowship program for health journalists in Kansas and Missouri. We have ambitious plans for continued growth of both our policy and news functions.
Our ability to financially support the operation of the News Service affords us great opportunity to do things right. We do not have to keep advertisers happy with the topics we cover or avoid. We don’t have to attract readers with sensationalized headlines and stories. And we don’t have to race to be the first with breaking news to draw attention, though we often find ourselves out in front on important health stories. We can focus our efforts on identifying the most important health issues facing our state and committing the necessary resources to reporting them fully and accurately.
This is not a role that we take lightly, and we continue to search for ways to improve our news coverage as well as our policy analysis and research. We have surveyed and interviewed stakeholders across the state twice over the last five years to better understand how we are doing. We have worked hard to implement the suggestions, regard the cautions and push ahead in some of the ways that have been identified.
The feedback from readers has convinced me that it was a good decision to launch the News Service. Though at times it has caused some confusion about our mission and a few tense moments over sensitive stories, the News Service has significantly increased the visibility and effectiveness of the Kansas Health Institute to inform the policymaking process.
To maintain the credibility of both the News Service and our policy analysis and research, we’ve worked hard to keep the two functions separate. The News Service truly operates as an editorially independent program. As CEO, I don’t decide what the News Service covers or review the stories posted to our website and shared with other media outlets. The journalists who run the News Service make those decisions just as they would in a more traditional newsroom.
By the same token, members of the KHI News Service staff aren’t involved in discussions about the many policy and research projects KHI is involved in, including those we undertake in partnerships with state agencies and others.
Understanding how we operate should help you evaluate the information we provide, whether that information comes from the news side or the policy and research side of KHI.
If you have opinions or insights about how we could do better, please email me or call me at (785) 233-5443.
Robert F. St. Peter, M.D.
President and CEO
Kansas Health Institute