Credit: Rob Dobi

Public Health Watch turns a year old on Wednesday. That’s hard for me to fathom. A year goes by very quickly when you’re engrossed in something meaningful.

A little history is in order. I began conceptualizing what would become Public Health Watch in early 2019. I’d been a journalist for 41 years at that point, and was acting CEO of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. I’d run reporting teams and helped raise money. I’d done budgets, performance reviews, grant reports and pay charts. I’d seen the explosion of news outlets in the nonprofit space and thought, “Why not?”

I began acting on my idea in early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding. It seemed to be the worst possible time to start an enterprise: How could I hope to catch anyone’s attention, let alone ask them for seed funding, when the nation was shutting down in a panic? But it turned out to be the perfect time to remind people how badly this country needed an outlet dedicated to investigative reporting on public health. And so, I forged ahead, relying on advice generously offered by journalists, nonprofit managers, foundation officers and many others.

I found a fiscal sponsor – the Texas Democracy Foundation – and was able to raise enough money to begin ramping up in early 2021. I assembled a core group of writers and editors and a first-rate advisory board. That June, my wife and I moved from the D.C. suburbs to our home state of Texas, where I’d begun my newspaper career. On August 17, 2021, Public Health Watch launched with a collaborative investigation into preventable, heat-related deaths among workers of color; our partners were NPR, Columbia Journalism Investigations and public radio stations in Texas and California. That project would go on to win a prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors award.

Over the past year, we’ve published deeply reported pieces on life-threatening air pollution enabled by the state of Texas in Harris and Jefferson counties; rising rates of childhood cancer and congenital syphilis, and publicly funded “crisis pregnancy centers” that spread misinformation about abortion. Our writers have discussed their work on radio programs such as Texas Standard, and I’ve been interviewed by publications such as Nieman Storyboard, a widely read media news site. Our work has had impact: After reading our 10,000-word piece on chemical-saturated eastern Harris County, for example, a Texas state representative from Houston promised to introduce legislation to clamp down on chronic polluters.

We’ve gotten funding from 14 foundations and received our 501(c)(3) determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service in June, meaning we’re a standalone nonprofit. We’ll be splitting off from our friends at the Texas Democracy Foundation this fall.

We’re constantly looking for media partners to ensure our work is amplified, and are collaborating at the moment with the Texas Tribune, Univision, E&E News/Politico and KQED in San Francisco. Today we posted our latest collection of government documents, which can be searched using the Google tool Pinpoint. More collections are coming.

We have great accountability stories planned between now and the end of the year, so please keep reading – and support us if you’re able. For those who already have, our sincere thanks.

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