Bridging Health and Racial Disparities

Batala McFarlane, 2021
Batala McFarlane (ThreeSixty Journalism/Evan Frost)

Batala McFarlane grew up so closely to Insight News she calls it her “twin sister.” The Black-owned family news business began in 1974, the year she was born.  

McFarlane started attending meetings with her father when she was 3 years old and co-produces their radio show, “Conversations with Al McFarlane.”  

Insight News began in North Minneapolis, in the basement she grew up in, and has remained just as close-knit as ever. Being in proximity with her dad, the two have maintained a close relationship while forging a powerful work dynamic.  

“It’s an honor to work with him. We disagree a lot, but that’s OK,” McFarlane said. “It’s just to continue the legacy, the institution my father has built.”  

Their mission is to “inform, instruct and inspire, and to provide a vehicle through which we can tell our stories.”  

“It’s always been just to be a place of voice for those people who are, who have been and too often (are) pushed to the margins,” McFarlane said.  

For McFarlane, it’s important to create narratives that are more than the typical rags to riches story. Striving for more exposure, she believes highlighting the issue isn’t enough and thinks putting a spotlight on the solution is just as important.  

“A colleague says don’t fall in love with the problem. Do acknowledge that it’s there, but what’s the solution?” McFarlane said.  

 McFarlane hasn’t just amplified community voices but has also brought about change in community health. Around eight years ago, McFarlane launched the Insight-2-Health fitness challenge with the goal of improving health outcomes in people who are most impacted by health disparities. People participated in 10 weeks of rigorous workouts and received lifestyle and nutrition coaching.  

“People need to see folks who look like them, who are taking control of their lives, who are not becoming the perceived family history of high blood pressure or heart disease,” McFarlane said.  

It’s important to McFarlane to show that research is being led by Black people in clinical data so they can trust the information they are getting. Achieving improvement in heart health is no easy task. 

The initiative has expanded into launching the Insight Health Equity Action Lab, or iHEAL, which is dedicated to journalism about data and health equity. McFarlane knows iHEAL is a long-term initiative, and she has found the perfect partners in Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler, a cardiologist, and her colleagues at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. 

Looking to the future, McFarlane thinks people are now attentive to Black people’s stories about disparities that have been neglected for so long. McFarlane wants to take advantage of this opportunity by taking Insight News a step further.  

McFarlane is rethinking their partnerships and the possibility of working with competitors to make connections that attract young readers. McFarlane thinks the next generation holds all the answers to recurring problems happening both locally and globally. 

“It’s more than a moment. What do we do with this energy that we’re in? (How do we use) this desire to listen, to collaborate, to work together to build a greater society?”

These reports were created by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2021 News Reporter Academy high school students in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center