Student journalists knee-deep in swine flu reporting

The H1N1 reporting craze is taking over journalism schools south of the border as well as in Canada. Some University of Southern California journalism students are currently lobbying a number of California counties to release death certificates of those whom have died of H1N1 so the students can evaluate the government’s response to the spread of the disease.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
, both Los Angeles and Fresno counties have surrendered the death certificates to the school’s online news site, Neon Tommy, but several other counties still refuse, citing privacy issues.

From the RCFP:

“The confusion over whether the records are public stems from the misconception that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — the HIPAA privacy rule — prevents disclosure of death certificates. But the Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish told Neon Tommy reporters that wasn’t the case.

“HIPAA is intended to apply to medical providers that exchange information electronically,’ she said. ‘A state public records agency is not a medical provider. So the fact that [counties] would invoke a federal law saying it somehow governs their own state record-keeping ability is ludicrous.'”

The students are going ahead with the story and using the information they have collected so far. They plan to continue the battle to obtain all H1N1 death certificates in California.