Covering chaos: Addiction coverage could focus more on solutions than statistics

Having covered the college recruiting circuit in high school football before, I’m familiar with the growing narrative of injured players developing opioid addictions. The pressure is enormous, from peers, parents, coaches, and even school administrators, for players to get back on the field after suffering injuries in what is an inescapably violent sport. The destructive journey from suffering a significant injury treated with narcotic painkillers to full-blown addiction is often alarmingly rapid.

For this comparison of news reporting and solutions journalism, I sought at least one example of journalism coverage in this specific space, as this piece from Ken Serrano in the Asbury Park Press embodies. The article’s title reads as the archetypical SEO blurb, “NJ opioid story: From football field to addiction.” In the article, Serrano canvasses the story of Donovan Allieri, a gifted football athlete who suffered a serious thumb injury that started a spiral of opioid usage. The profile delves into your typical deployment of jarring addiction statistics and focuses mostly on Allieri’s descent into addiction rather than his path to recovery. Even the search-driven title informs the reader addiction is the key focus of the narrative. I believe this piece typifies news coverage for the opioid crisis.

An example of a piece that trends more towards solutions reporting comes from The Times Herald of Norristown. Journalist Katie Kohler produced a two-part series focusing on the arduous recovery process of Sal Giannone. Most of these addiction-centric profiles we find in local newspaper outlets ape the model of the story above; a fall from grace via addiction and then a macro view of epidemic statistics. Kohler’s piece, meanwhile, required a great deal of reporting to trace Giannone’s path from addiction to recovery with his career path as a barber as a focus of his salvation. Even if this article doesn’t follow the full scope of tenets for Solutions Journalism, it does offer a model or template for recovery in that it offers a real example of recovery past cliche and well beyond the 30-day scope of in-patient treatment. I suppose I enjoy the fact the focus of the piece is Giannone’s unique path to sustainable sobriety and not nearly as cookie cutter as some recovery pieces prove.

Even if this piece doesn’t follow the full scope of principles for Solutions Journalism, it does offer a model for recovery in that it offers a real example of recovery past cliche and well beyond the 30-day scope of in-patient treatment. I suppose I enjoy the fact the focus of the piece is how Giannone got his footing back in sobriety through the utility and self-esteem of a new career. In a population under siege in regards to opioid addiction such as Norristown, this level of well-sourced, long-form journalism is a strong example of providing actionable solutions to a specific readership.

-Jim McCormick 

About the author

Jim McCormick

For the past decade, Jim McCormick has worked as an analyst covering the NFL and NBA for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. From 2009 to 2010, he served as a regular panelist for The Washington Post’s online NFL platform, The League. In addition to written content for The League, Jim conceived and produced the interview podcast series, “Behind the Helmet.” From 2011-2012, Jim was the lead high school football editor for ESPN.com. Jim also served as an editor and co-publisher of the nationally distributed BLITZ Magazine from 2006 to 2010 in what was a broad learning experience as a media entrepreneur. Contact Jim at tua60748@temple.edu.

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By Jim McCormick