As regular readers of Crikey and the Content Makers blog may know, Crikey stopped funding the Crikey Health and Medical Panel (CHAMP) and Croakey at the end of October.

From Crikey’s perspective, the company was cutting back, and judged the health beat was not core business (despite my repeated contention that it should be, if health is understood not simply as a lifestyle issue but as a critical political, social and economic issue).

But they didn’t get rid of us so easily! Instead, the hunt began for alternative ways of funding the project.

Today I am pleased to announce that a consortium of organisations, which see value in having a forum for public health debate and discussion, are pitching in to keep CHAMP and Croakey alive, for at least another year.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), VicHealth, the Epidemiology Unit of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, the Brain and Mind Research Institute, and the Australian Health Promotion Association have each committed $2,000 to the project. (A sixth funder is still being sought – so please let us know if you or yours would like to contribute to the Croakey Consortium).

(Update: since this blog was first published, the UNSW Research Centre for Primary Health Care & Equity has confirmed it will join the Consortium, so we have enough funds to continue for 12 months now

2nd update, on 23 Dec: The Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance has also joined the consortium – which means there is funding to continue it for 14 months from Nov 09 ).

The PHAA, which has coordinated the fund raising drive, will be the funds holder, and I will invoice them for $1,000 each month.

Of course, this raises all sorts of conflict of interest issues – a health journalist being funded by health organisations.

I am acutely conscious of and appreciative of such concerns, and am pleased that the funders have agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding regarding editorial independence. It states explicitly that they will have no say over Croakey’s editorial content or direction.

I also took a lead from the US community-funded journalism project, Spot Us, which seeks to address conflicts of interest by ensuring that no single sponsor can fund more than 20 per cent of a story. In a similar vein, I thought it better to have several organisations putting in a relatively small amount than to have only one or two involved, which might be more likely to engender a sense of ownership.

But I am certainly not claiming to be free of conflicts of interest or biases – as the project itself demonstrates.

This article (abstract is free, the full article is not) in the Medical Journal of Australia outlines some the background to the CHAMP project, including how it began as an informal collaboration between journalism and public health, with one aim being to influence the public debate around health issues, particularly to increase the focus on traditionally under-reported and under-served areas such as Indigenous health, and rural and remote health.

It has also sought to encourage public health minded people to engage in debate, and generally to stir the pot.

So Croakey and CHAMP have never been “straight journalism”, whatever that means. The project has set out to engender a different type of health debate to that occurring in the mainstream headlines.

It comes with an agenda, part of which is to promote open, pluralistic debate.

CHAMP now has more than 180 members. who have contributed hundreds of articles to the Crikey bulletin, as well as to posts and discussions at Croakey. These have reflected different opinions, views and interpretations of evidence – but generally come within a framework of concern for public health.

Other outcomes of the project include the Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents, the Crikey Register of Influence, and Professor Guy Maddern’s Diary of a Surgeon.

Coincidentally, the Medical Journal of Australia has just published this article (abstract free, pay for full), in which my fellow Crikey blogger Margaret Simons and I look at the implications for public health of the transition from mass media to “masses of media”.

This was written before the Crikey chop came down on Croakey, so its focus on philanthropic funding of public health journalism has since taken on a new personal relevance.

We conclude in the article that: “The new media revolution is underway, but it will be some time until its impact upon the health of our societies and populations is fully understood”.

Meanwhile, Croakey and CHAMP will continue as an experiment that crosses the boundaries of both new media and public health.

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