The Value of a New Voice
Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine, a publication of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Maryland, U.S., went through a redesign in early 2020, adding a special section to each issue to be able to investigate major topics.
“Public health is obviously such a diverse field, everything from injury to tobacco to malaria,” says Brian W. Simpson, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. “Rather than being limited to trying to cover everything in every issue, we wanted to at least have a special space at the beginning to really do a deep dive on important issues.”
And 2020 was full of important issues with the spread of COVID-19 and the focus on racism and public health.
In the fall of 2020, Simpson and his team decided to dedicate the special section to racism as a health crisis and brought in Keshia M. Pollack Porter, Vice Dean for Faculty and professor in health policy and management, as a guest editor to work on the issue.
“Post George Floyd’s murder, we saw racism emerge again as a huge national focus. It had long been recognized in public health as an important issue—and then, with COVID-19 and the health disparities among people of color, it really came to the fore,” Simpson says. “And with the prioritization of recognizing and addressing racism as a public health crisis at the school, it all came together to make us want to really take this on in a significant way.”
Simpson says this was the first time the magazine had ever had a guest editor, but he knew they needed an expert to guide them through this sensitive and pressing subject.
Pollack Porter says she doesn’t usually talk so publicly about her experiences as a Black woman.
“People know what I care about, but I don’t often tell my own story,” she says. “I appreciated the opportunity to talk about my own lived experiences.”
As a leading health equity scholar, Pollack Porter was intimately involved in the conceiving, framing, and editing of all the pieces, which included an infographic on how structural racism harms Black Americans’ health, a collection of first-person essays titled “Youth Voices Against Racism,” an article on how racism has a "weathering effect" on Black men, and more.
After initial conversations between Pollack Porter and the rest of the magazine staff, they decided to focus the special section on Black Americans. Once they made that decision, they worked on ensuring the magazine included a range of voices and identities.
Simpson and Pollack Porter both stressed that using different storytelling techniques was also key to exploring the issue.
“Public health is always very rich in data and sometimes that can kind of pull you away to all these fascinating statistics and making your case using the numbers, but we also know that it’s so important to tell human stories as well because sometimes that can get to truth that numbers can’t and also can reveal the essence of a problem in ways that numbers don’t,” Simpson says.
He says the special section had the most comments and letters to the editor he’s ever seen.
“I think that says it reached an audience, it reached a level that demonstrates how important it is that we took on this issue,” he says.
About the author(s)
Beth Mechum is the former Manager of Strategic Communications at CASE.
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