Reporting on Addiction: Advice From Two Journalists

Elena Gordon from The Pulse at WHYY and Morgan Zalot, who worked on Generation Addicted by NBC 10, came in to speak with our class for our final session of guest speakers.

“Radio can be a very powerful medium for talking about this kind of stuff,” Gordon said. Gordon writes articles for The Pulse, but she also contributes to The Pulse’s radio and podcast segments. Gordon started in public health before becoming a radio journalist. She said her background has been helpful for background information, but she is careful not to assume anything about addiction or other public health issues.

“This is where ‘fresh eyes’ are beneficial,” Gordon added.

Zalot said while shooting Generation Addiction, her team wanted to cover more than just the population.

“Everyone already knows opiates are bad,” Zalot said. She began looking at solution models, and decided to focus on the groups that are not typically represented as addicts, such as people living in the suburbs, or older people.

During their broadcast, Zalot said NBC asked their viewers to tweet #addictionis followed by their thoughts and feedback while watching the broadcast. This is an excellent example of using multimedia to interact with an audience. This strategy also helps attract more viewers, because the tweets can reach people on twitter who are not watching, but might tune in because of the tweet they saw.

Zalot said her co-worker Vince Lattanzio witnessed an overdose while he was working in the field. This brought up a conversation among her team about whether journalists reporting on addiction should carry Narcan, and be trained to administer it.

Overall, Zalot said she tried to be a “human first and a journalist second,” while reporting on addiction in the field.

Gordon felt the same way about interviewing people in recovery.

“I don’t want to treat you differently than I would treat a public official,” She said.

Gordon added that when reporting, you should always have a one sentence focus statement before you go into the field to work on a story.

 

About the author

Meghan Costa

Meghan Costa studies journalism and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She writes for the schools newspaper, The Temple News and works as an editorial intern at the office of the senior vice provost of strategic communications. After graduation, Meghan hopes to stay in Philadelphia and write for a magazine or newspaper. She would like to specialize in mental health reporting, but she is open to any and all opportunities that come her way. Meghan also has a strong passion for creative writing, and is always looking to collaborate with other creatives on projects of any kind. Some of her favorite writers include e.e Cummings, T.S. Elliot, and Kurt Vonnegut. Meghan is originally from West Chester, which is a suburb of the Philadelphia area. Contact Meghan at tuf87094@temple.edu.

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