How health care reporting connects the community

by Stacy Fernández

October 1, 2018

Marissa Evans, an award-winning health and human service policy reporter with The Texas Tribune, will speak at Newhouse Oct. 2

Marissa Evans
Marissa Evans will speak at the Newhouse School Oct. 2 as part of the Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium.

When asked why she decided to specialize in health reporting, journalist Marissa Evans has a clear answer.

“We're at this weird point in time right now where health care is extremely expensive and it's a case of the haves and the have nots,” Evans says. “All our lives are touched by health care at some point.”

Evans, who recently won an explanatory journalism award from the Online News Association for her investigation into Texas’ unusually high rates of maternal deaths, will be speaking as part of the Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium. The consortium is a partnership between the Pulitzer Center and universities with the goal of fostering conversations about important global issues. While in Syracuse, Evans will be visiting classrooms to speak with students in addition to her giving talk.

Evans spoke with Newhouse student Stacy Fernández about what led her to journalism, how to amplify diverse voices and how to protect your well-being during troubling times.

Why did you decide to become a journalist?

I was in high school and I was like, "Oh, high school newspaper, that could be fun.” Then I published my first story on global warming, or something like that, and I remember we specifically used this clip art that had the globe with the polar bears going around and it was like, "Oh man, this is my jam. This is my thing, this is it.” Ever since then, that's what I've been doing. 

I love the idea of being able to help people and the idea of educating people. I think it's very easy in this life to get caught up in your own world to the point where you're not as willing to explore other people's worlds and walk in other people's shoes, and I think [fighting that is] what journalism really does.

How has your life experience shaped you into the reporter you are now?

It taught me the value of advocating for myself as a person of color and as a journalist of color. I think that's your first foray into diversity journalism. You're sitting there wondering, “Why aren't we writing about black students and why aren't we writing about women on campus?” You start to have that first battle over coverage.

Now that I'm five years into my career I can articulate that better because I now have more experience under my belt. It's been really exciting and interesting and a little scary to have to feel like, wow, I actually have a voice now.

How does diversity affect the way you connect with the community as a journalist?

It’s interesting because we have our staff photos on the website with our office phone numbers. I've had people call and [say], "I know you're a sister. So, let me talk to you about this story." It is funny and it's just so, so tragic and so sad too because it's like, "You really didn't feel like you could reach out to any other person except for one of three black people at the organization?” But that's also why it matters.

How did you get into health and policy reporting?

My family had some health problems when I was in college and it really opened my eyes. It was my first hoorah into looking at how the health care system works. That's how I think a lot of people experience the health care system for the first time, when they or a loved one has to deal with health care. When they have to deal with doctors and diagnoses and paying for health care and their health insurance. That's when their lives are really touched by health care.

I always thought, if I could write some stories that are about health care, maybe—and this is very idealistic—maybe someone would feel less scared to go to the doctor. They would feel empowered to call their health insurance company and ask why their bill is how much it is. They would feel like they could sit in their doctor's office for as long as it took to ask the questions that they need to ask because they cared enough about their own healthcare to want to know, "How do I get well?"

Given the difficult topics you cover, how do you manage your own mental health?

Watching the news cycle is tough right now. It's hard to see black people getting gunned down. It's hard to see prejudice out in the forefront just in our everyday lives--whether we're on a golf course, whether we're driving down the street, whether we're walking down the block, whether we're going into a store. It's hard to see the simple things become such a challenge for us as a community to do.

I take breaks from social media. Sometimes I'd rather just get the highlights, the bullet points on Twitter and keep it moving. It just depends on what the subject matter is. At this point I just try to take every day one day at a time because every day will be different, every day there's something new to feel enraged about or upset about and you have to manage your emotions, mental health and self-care.

Stacy Fernández is a senior in the magazine program at the Newhouse School.