With new hire, AHCJ puts firearm violence and trauma front and center in public health reporting

AHCJ recently welcomed Kaitlin Washburn, a Chicago-based independent health reporter, as the organization’s first firearm violence and trauma HealthBeat leader (formerly known as core topic leader).

Funding for the new role comes from the Joyce Foundation, which also provided support for AHCJ’s fall summit in 2022 on firearm violence as a public health issue. 

Washburn, a San Diego native and graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, covered gun violence for two years for The Kansas City Star as a Report for America (RFA) corps member. There she reported on neighborhoods hardest hit by firearm violence in Kansas City and St. Louis as well as the impact of firearm suicides in rural areas. 

She also examined prevention efforts outside of law enforcement and the impact that other variables — poverty, housing and neighborhood infrastructure — have on gun violence. Washburn also wrote about the types of gun violence that often go underreported yet drive gun deaths and injuries, like domestic violence and suicide.

“We really just hired one of the most experienced firearm violence reporters in the Midwest for this new role,” said Katherine Reed, director of education and content for AHCJ. “Kaitlin knows this subject inside and out and has demonstrated what a public health frame looks like when applied to this subject. I think her experience will be very helpful to our members.”

Using land bank data and shooting locations, Washburn reported on how vacant lots and abandoned buildings can contribute to higher gun violence rates. Her coverage also included the efforts of a teen-staffed crisis hotline in St. Louis committed to reducing stigma and ending the silence around youth suicide, and the decades-long effort by the Missouri legislature to roll back gun laws, leading to a spike in gun deaths in the state.

Previously, she was an agriculture reporter covering the omnipresent industry in California’s Central Valley for The Sun-Gazette, also as a part of RFA.

“It’s important for health care journalists to cover this topic because gun violence poses one of the greatest threats to the health and well-being of communities across the country. Gun violence has detrimental impacts on an individual’s and a community’s health,” she said.

 “In this role with AHCJ, I will take what I’ve learned from reporting on the gun violence beat and provide practical tips for reporters to better cover the issue. I will explain the key issues that intersect with gun violence and public health and I will share tips and best practices for how to cover gun violence in any community from a public health perspective.”