Missouri Health Talks is an on-going rural engagement series at KBIA. This is the local public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. It shares four-minute conversations between everyday Missourians affected by access to healthcare.
Health Reporter Rebecca Smith created and steers the project. She travels throughout the state gathering conversations, edits them into four-minute pieces and curates the interactive Missouri Health Talks website. One of the most engaging parts of the website is the interactive map of Missouri. People can scan over their communities and find stories from their neighbors – and can see their own stories lifted up and literally put on the map. The map also highlights landmarks where Rebecca has traveled and sorts the stories by access issue, so researchers and advocates can search for grassroots stories by topic.
The project also has an exciting educational component: Rebecca works with students at the University of Missouri School of Journalism as they research topics and communities, identify sources, conduct conversations and produce high-quality radio pieces. This opportunity teaches them the benefits and strengths of conversations-based journalism. It also shows them the importance of journalism as a part of a community, not just about one.
In the little more than two years that this project has been underway, it has produced 79 original conversations, a rural community health resource fair, many live events, in-depth 30-minute specials for our talk show, Intersection, and a spin-off podcast.
Rebecca does a lot of the work herself as a one-woman backpack producer. First, she identifies a Missouri community to focus on and does basic research on the community. Once she has identified some of the major health issues in the community, she reaches out to groups such as: health departments, churches, FQHCs, dentists, disability advocacy groups, governmental leaders, etc. She then travels to the community and spends time there attending community gatherings and events to get to know the communities better. This also helps her find more people who have stories of access to share.
Rebecca created the project because she realized this innovative style of conversations journalism can bridge gaps and rebuild trust with communities. Especially those who did not feel included in KBIA’s day-to-day coverage. It also increased the diversity of voices that are heard regularly on the air. This includes more rural voices, as well as Missourians with diverse identities. Things like sexual orientation, country of origin, language spoken, ability status or race.