Herald-Leader reporter wins Nieman fellowship to study at Harvard; her goal is to help other papers cover Obamacare

Photo by Pablo Alcala,
Lexington Herald-Leader

Mary Meehan, a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, has been selected for the 2016 class of Nieman fellows at Harvard University.
She is one of 24 journalists chosen for this prestigious honor and will begin her year of study at Harvard in September.

“I am going to Harvard to study for nine months. I hope to learn things I didn’t know I yearn to learn, learn about healthcare and the massive social experiment underway.” Meehan said in her shared blog, Menopausal Moms of Kentucky. “I also hope to learn something that can help in some small way to keep the newspaper industry upright.”

Meehan has been with the Herald-Leader for 15 years, but began her career as a journalist 34 years ago as a columnist for The Voice of St. Mathews in Louisville at the age of 16. Before returning to Kentucky, she worked for the Tribune Newspapers in Phoenix, AZ, The Orlando Sentinel in Florida, and also as a freelance journalist in Florida.

She said that her “life changing” experience as a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation Health Coverage Fellow last year is what prompted her to apply for the fellowship. She said she returned from the first fellowship energized to write about health, and has written “as many stories as I could” with information from that experience.

Still, she said, “I just came across stories that I couldn’t get to, that were too complicated because I didn’t have a good, deep foundation of health-care reform and the complex issues involving how people access health care, or what makes them seek it out even if they have insurance, and so that prompted me to file an application for the Nieman fellowship.”

Meehan said that she made it clear on her application that she is not a full-time health journalist and that during any given week she has covered “a tractor parade, monster trucks and Salem the wonder cat.” But she also said that while covering health, she has found that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has accountability measures that apply everywhere, but are “very difficult to digest on the fly.”

Each Nieman fellow proposes a study project. Meehan plans to examine the impact of the law and barriers to sustained health improvement among the previously uninsured.

“My goal is to help mid-size and small papers cover the Affordable Care Act in a meaningful way,” she said. “The other part is highlighting positive things that are happening in communities, with a critical eye. Looking at not only what works, but also the challenges.”

Meehan said being selected for the top fellowship in journalism hasn’t really “soaked in yet,” but she anticipates, based on previous fellows’ comments, that she will discover “something that is amazing” that can’t be predicted yet.

She said she is looking forward to working with the other fellows, half of whom will come from all over the world, and going back to college.

“I am a 50-year-old woman with white hair; I just love the visual of me sitting in a Harvard class,” she said with pure joy in her voice. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Western Kentucky University where she majored in political science and journalism.

In addition to taking classes, fellows attend Nieman seminars, workshops and master classes and work closely with Harvard scholars and other leading thinkers in the Cambridge, Mass., area.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism has educated more than 1,400 accomplished journalists from 93 countries since 1938.

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One Reply to “Herald-Leader reporter wins Nieman fellowship to study at Harvard; her goal is to help other papers cover Obamacare”

  1. HM Seiler

    Congratulations to Ms Meehan! The Neiman experience will expand her world view and sharpen her writing skills–already considerable. I hope she will return to us with a better understanding of the limits of the ACA, realizing our need for a national, publicly-funded health care program. The expansion of Medicaid via Kynect/ACA/Obamacare is helping many in our state–but thousands are left uninsured, or fall into eligibility gaps.. Those with private plans are finding that ever higher deductibles keep them from seeking needed care. The ACA may be a start, but our country could do so much better by adopting a single-payer plan covering all our people–and our economy could save billions while doing so.

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