Deborah Shelton gives a voice to the voiceless.
A Chicago Tribune reporter, she describes her work as looking out for the “little guy.”
Visiting the Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication as part of the Professionals in Residence program funded by the Hearst Foundation, Shelton is a specialist reporter on the investigative/consumer watchdog team who writes about health issues. Her reporting collides at the intersection of medicine, ethics, psychology, politics, economics and society.
Shelton said she writes for socially vulnerable people—such as children, teens, low-income, and minorities—those who have no voice, so they are able to make important decisions that will positively change their lives.
“I hate to use the word empowered, but people need information to help make better decisions,” Shelton said.
Shelton said she also has passion for health reporting because it’s encompassing of many human elements.
“I’m really drawn to how everything comes together in health reporting,” Shelton said, speaking to a journalism reporting and writing class. “From cradle to grave happens in health reporting. Birth, death, sacrifice, natural human drama, human triumphs, failures—I just thought it was the most fascinating beat.”
Shelton, who is optimistic about the future of journalism, wants to bring a diverse worldview to health issues that she believes need to be written about.
“The need for good journalism will only increase over time as we become a much more complex society,” Shelton said. “Certainly healthcare has become more complex, and people need help navigating through the healthcare world and the world in general.”
Daily Iowan Managing Editor Sam Lane spent time with Shelton during her visit and discussed various health beat topics with her, from a federal medical privacy law to healthcare reform.
“She’s done so many things that it shows DI staffers the broad range of everything they should be trying to accomplish, and not just pigeonholing yourself in print journalism or TV journalism, and to make sure you’re getting experience in as many areas as possible,” Lane said. “I think [Shelton] and her career does a really good job of showing that. And the investigative mentality too, she really goes digging for those good stories.”
Shelton hoped, she said, that her drive to get to the bottom of a story, the investigative mentality, and her dedication rubbed off on Iowa’s aspiring reporters. They did on Lane.
“Some of the things she talked about sparked ideas for me,” Lane said. Whether Shelton was brainstorming new ideas with Daily Iowan staff, speaking in classes or visiting with journalism student organization groups, she hoped her passion for the health beat helped students come up with fresh ideas, which they could turn into enticing stories.
“There are some universal themes that come up in universal health coverage all the time that anyone can relate to,” Shelton said. “A mother’s love for a child, a person’s desire to live and to live a healthy life—who can’t relate to those sorts of things? Don’t we all want to live? Don’t we all want to see our loved ones be healthy?”
Professional in residence speaker Deborah Shelton. Photo by Mohammed Amro