Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'Seven Days of Heroin' is an outstanding portrait of opioid epidemic, and an example to other papers

The magnitude and impact of the opioid epidemic can be difficult for journalists to convey. What prose can adequately describe a mother struggling to stay sober for her baby, born addicted? What statistics can really show the hopelessness of a small town ravaged by drug overdoses? The Cincinnati Enquirer took on this task in an unconventional way, by sending out more than 60 reporters, photographers and videographers to the city and region to capture the effects of heroin. The carefully edited result, called Seven Days of Heroin, was published as a 20-page special section on Sunday, Sept. 10. "It deserves all of the attention it has been getting," Pete Vernon writes for the Columbia Journalism Review.

"Told in spare, chronological snapshots of one week in July, the cumulative effect is an overpowering portrait of a region struggling to confront a crisis. The piece’s subhed reads, 'This is what an epidemic looks like,' and that’s what it delivers," Vernon writes. The Enquirer's departing editor, Peter Bhatia, wrote that the paper was careful not to take sides on the cost of battling addiction. "Rather, we set out to understand how it unfolds day in and day out."

Pregnant inmates walk into the Northern Kentucky Med Clinic in Covington where they receive methadone and counseling. (Cincinnati Enquirer photo by Liz Dufour)
Terry DeMio, who has been covering the Enquirer's heroin beat full-time for the past two years, teamed up with reporter Dan Horn to assemble the piece. One of the editors was Amy Wilson, a former writer for The Rural Blog. Though the Enquirer staff also did most of the field work, reporters from Gannett Co.'s Media Network of Central Ohio contributed.

Vernon says their work has created a template that other Gannett papers should emulate in covering other large, difficult-to-encapsulate topics. And there's no reason that non-Gannett, non-chain papers can't do similar work, if they have the resources and the commitment. The Enquirer shows the way.

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