Last week, Morgan Zalot of NBC Philadelphia and Elana Gordon of WHYY came to our class to talk about their experiences with reporting on addiction in Philadelphia. Zalot was part of the team that worked on Generation Addiction and Gordon is a health reporter who often writes about addiction and its causes and effects.
The reporters both told us that they are conscious of the language they use in their reporting and try to be as respectful as possible, but they both said they want to report on the reality of addiction. That’s why Generation Addicted decided to show a person shooting up, Zalot said.
Zalot said that during the reporting process, one of her colleagues witnessed someone suffering an overdose. The reporters didn’t carry Narcan, she said, so he just called 911. It brought up another ethical issue though: should journalists out in the field carry Narcan and intervene in a life-threatening situation?
Gordon said that although it is a sensitive topic, she has to remind herself that she is still a reporter and tries to treat her sources the same.
“As a journalist, I don’t want to treat you differently than a public official,” she said. “That is a very important part of journalism, but in these places, it can be really tricky.”
My reporters said that one of the most important parts of covering addiction is avoiding sensationalizing while also giving an accurate representation of the reality of the problem.