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Pulitzer Center Update April 21, 2023

Grantees Participate in CUGH Global Health Film Festival and Science Reporting Panels


In Washington, D.C., the Pulitzer Center partnered with the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) for its annual conference to present a film festival and a workshop with communication specialists, researchers, and global health journalists. 

On Saturday, April 15, conference attendees and the public joined for a curated series of seven Center-supported short films highlighting communities around the world facing climate change, displacement, and conflict. A conversation with filmmakers and journalists Valerie Plesch, Jessica Marcy, and Will Wintercross followed the screening. 

Plesch told the audience her connection with Afghanistan runs deep given her time spent in the country and prior work in international development. In Washington, D.C., she maintained links with her networks and reported on asylum seekers even before the latest Taliban rule. She said she “hopes stories can create change and bring more awareness” to the situation of Afghans now residing in the United States

The films told the stories of migrant communities facing dangerous conditions caused by climate change, as well as those struggling with trauma. Others follow young Indigenous Brazilians fighting to defend the rainforest and Himalayan communities adapting their lifestyles to a new climate reality. The audience was encouraged to examine how the warming climate impacts health in a myriad of ways. 

When covering particularly sensitive topics, all of the journalists agreed on the need to be respectful and to be mindful of avoiding re-traumatizing their sources. 

“I’m often amazed by how many people want to share with us journalists,” Wintercross said. “There’s something to be said about just being present.”

Will Wintercross speaks on reporting with empathy with Jessica Marcy, Valerie Plesch, and Mikaela Schmitt during the post-screening conversation at the CUGH Film Festival. Image by Ann Peters. United States, 2023.

On the last day of the conference, attendees discussed communicating a range of global health issues with a panel of journalists and researchers. Co-hosted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Global Health NOW, the panel explored how experts across scientific fields can better communicate their research to the public.

“There’s been a real disconnect between how we are talking about what we know about science, and how people are actually understanding and relating to what we’re talking about,” said Dr. Rupali Limaye. “It has been a really eye-opening experience for me to think about how we can use empathy, and how we can build trust with people, so that when we’re talking about… aspects of science that people are uncomfortable with, they can still form an evidence-based opinion.”

The panel included Amy Maxmen, an award-winning science writer and current press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Dr. Rupali Limaye, health communication expert and Deputy Director of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's International Vaccine Access Center; Taiwo Adebulu, who partnered with the Pulitzer Center to investigate why locals of Ondo state, Nigeria, are hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine; and Meredith Wadman, a trained physician and journalist who has been reporting about medical science, global health, and its politics from Washington, D.C., for 25 years.

Speaking about the experience in South Africa that inspired her to publish a journalistic piece, Wadman said “it was an outrage-driven thing. It’s not like some academic subset of people needed to be aware of these conditions; the world needed to know how bad it is.”

An audience member asks panelists a question during the Communication Workshop at the CUGH annual conference. Image by Mikaela Schmitt. United States, 2023.

An audience of health professionals, students, and researchers asked panelists for advice on incorporating personable angles into research communications, distribution avenues, working with journalists, and shifting narratives of power.

“The most pressing challenge that I have with experts is that when you have a particular set of data around health, you need to think about the story around this. In plain terms, what do I need to know? Try to separate out the data and ask, how can I humanize it?” Adebulu said. 

Additionally, during the conference weekend, the award winners of the 10th Annual CUGH-Pulitzer Global Health Video Competition were announced, awarding videos that showcase important global health issues and innovations.

The audience at the Communication Workshop at the CUGH annual conference. Image by Mikaela Schmitt. United States, 2023.