While working for NBC10, Morgan Zalot, a journalist, and her colleagues, thought about how much stigma their is around addiction, particularly IV users. They wanted to create a piece of journalism that was different that conveyed much more than just how bad the epidemic was.
“What are we going to tell them that is different?” she said.
Her colleague, Vince Lattanzio, started looking around the country at other models, like one in Massachusetts. Bensalem, Pennsylvania ended up starting a program based on that model.
NBC10 produced “Generation Addicted,” a video package looking at the issues of drug addiction in Pennsylvania, last year.
Some of the issues Zalot and her team ran into included subjects they spoke to on the street being high, and also Lattanzio saw an overdose occur while working in the field.
“He didn’t know what do because we didn’t have Narcan or training,” Zalot siad. “We just called 911.”
She added that it brought up the issue of whether or not as journalists reporting on the epidemic, if they should have Narcan while reporting.
Elana Gordon, a reporter for WHYY’s The Pulse, a health and sciences news site has reported extensively on addiction during her time there.
“As a journalist, I don’t want to treat you differently than a public official,” said Gordon of reporting on people dealing with addiction. “That is a very important part of journalism, but in these places, it can be really tricky.”
In medical reporting, Gordon said it can be difficult when dealing with HIPAA laws. She also recalls reporting on dentists prescribing opioids. Many of the dentists said they were not prescribing opioids, but she said she knew that wasn’t true.
“The Dental Association said they are updating their guidelines, but haven’t in 10 years,” Gordon said. “When you’re talking to one source, a basic tool is, who knows the most about this? Who should I talk to?”
Zalot added that she and the other team of journalists ran into issues when deciding how to show the seriousness of the epidemic. She added that she thinks it’s OK to show people using drugs in the video package.
In “Generation Addicted,” the video shows a man named Michael, they showed him using drugs, but htey also told his story from the beginning, which began with experimenting with pills, and “just sort of spiraled,” Zalot said.
“You can’t give the broader context in two minutes,” Zalot said. “This starts small and this is how people wind up here.”
In radio, Gordon said it’s important to be able to “humanize things,” but you also don’t want to sensationalize someone’s story.
As a journalist, she said you have to trust yourself and your gut.
“What is the question I have and how am I trying to look into it?” Gordon said. “I always try to check, imagining hearing this story, and if I can live with myself, it’s ok if it is reflective.”