by Danielle Nick
On Thursday, April 6th, Elana Gordon from WHYY’s the Pulse and Morgan Zalot from NBC10 spoke to our class about what it is like to report on addiction. Gordon and Zalot actually took opposite paths. Gordon always had an interest in public health and did not even major in journalism. However, her career at the Pulse has allowed her to blend her love for health with a new passion for reporting. Zalot, on the other hand, majored in journalism and has had a lot of experience in the broadcast industry. However, she recently quit her job at NBC10 to focus primarily on public health. Though their paths varied, both Gordon and Zalot had valuable advice for up-and-coming journalists who are going to report on sensitive subjects.
Both Gordon and Zalot emphasized how crucial it is to keep stories about addiction fresh. The media has reported on addiction for years, so viewers have become fatigued. Instead of the same story about the massive amount of overdoses throughout the United States, it is important to tell each addiction story in a new, innovative way. Additionally, Gordon and Zalot warned us not to sensationalize addiction, as it often is in the media. Gordon discussed the importance of humanizing each story as a way to combat sensationalism. Throughout her time at the Pulse, Gordon has discovered how powerful radio is in humanizing sensitive topics. She has enjoyed getting to interview people of all different backgrounds and hear their unique stories. “I’m really struck by how people really do want to talk about their experiences,” Gordon said. Despite all of her hard work, she knows her stories have flaws. It is difficult to cover every single aspect of a story, and that is something Gordon thinks journalists have to accept. “Deadlines are tricky because you have a beast to feed, so your story might not be as thorough as you wanted it to be,” Gordon said. Zalot agreed with this sentiment, especially after working on “Generation Addicted.”
Zalot was a member of the team of NBC10 reporters who spent five months on the “front lines of the new war on drugs.” The package, “Generation Addicted” was aired as a half-hour exclusive report, with the rest of the story available online. Zalot explained how the package actually happened by accident. She said her team traveled to Kensington to report on homelessness when people approached her and said, “You really have to cover heroin; that’s the story.” NBC10 listened, and the extensive five month project began. The idea was to make this story different than the same old, fatigued addiction story. Zalot explained, “We decided we wanted to show reality.” However, even though the package included a plethora of compelling interviews and crucial information about the opioid epidemic, Zalot is able to see holes in the story. Zalot said that of course there are more people and more aspects she would have liked to see. “We could have taken two years to report this,” Zalot said. Though, she is proud of her team for tackling such a daunting project. Zalot explained how she formed relationships with the people featured in “Generation Addicted,” so she really valued the chance to do follow up interviews to see how people were doing. It was an opportunity to make the story complete.