Priska Neely is overseeing and managing a new journalism collaborative startup, NPR’s Gulf States Newsroom, to help public media stations in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi share regionally important stories on healthcare, criminal justice and issues of wealth and poverty.
In some ways, her reporting and this new initiative are deeply linked to the work she’s been doing most of her life.
While at KPPC in LA, Neely covered issues pertaining to children between the ages of birth and 5. “I did a lot of stories about curriculum and child care issues in LA and California,” she says. “The story that took over my life was about Black infant mortality. I heard that Black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies in the first year of their life. As a Black woman, I was shocked. That was the first time hearing that.”
It was a personal story and statistic for her: “My sister lost two babies that were born premature. My other sister had my nephew premature. They didn’t know that statistic. They didn’t know their own personal statistics were wrapped up in that trend of racism, of being a Black woman in America and how that plays out in your own health outcomes. That was one of my driving questions: Does the community that this impacts even realize they’re part of it?”
The first story out from Gulf States Newsroom, by Shalina Chatlani, the health care reporter based at WWNO in New Orleans, explores a different element of the same core problem of systemic racism and disparities in health care access.
NPR’s new station investigations team had some data about where vaccination sites were placed in major cities across the South and were exploring disparities around race.
“Her story looked at Baton Rouge, where there aren’t many medical facilities, pharmacies or grocery stores, places where the (COVID-19) vaccine is being distributed,” Neely says. “The data showed that three-quarters of sites people had access to were in the southern part of the city, in mostly white areas. She was able to go there and talk to leaders in the north part of the city about pre-existing issues and how this is life for them. They’re now seeing that inequity in the vaccine rollout.”
The story was broadcast by all three stations involved in the Gulf States Newsroom and the reporter was involved in an NPR roundtable with a reporter from another state.
“She’s going to have a version of the story that we did locally, regionally and on NPR nationally, too,” Neely says. “It’s fulfilling and checking all the boxes: we shared content in three states and issues from this region,” but it will also find a national audience, something Neely hopes to do on a regular basis with the new initiative.
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Priska Neely, managing editor of the new Gulf States Newsroom project from NPR. She talks about her career in journalism and the new initiative to help tell important stories from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi across the region and the nation.