Reporter Jeremy Campbell and executive producer Erin Gutierrez of WXIA-TV have seen the effects of the opioid epidemic up close: Over two and a half years, the duo produced extensive, critically acclaimed coverage of the crisis and its impact on the northern suburbs of Atlanta, where they uncovered a 4,000% increase in heroin-related deaths from 2010-16.
Speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit last week, Campbell and Gutierrez provided attendees with a look at how the media is covering the ongoing issue, and shared advice on how providers can help shape the conversation moving forward:
1. Do your homework. Identify the journalists providing coverage of the opioid crisis in your market. Look for reporters, editors and producers who demonstrate a knowledge of the issue, have a wide reach and are responsive. Investigative reporters can be especially promising targets, as they typically work on longer projects with less restrictive deadlines. Beyond reading/viewing their previous work, learn more about journalists by viewing their profiles on LinkedIn.
“Pick people who know how to spread your message in the best way possible on the best possible media,” Gutierrez said.
2. Be persistent. Media members can receive more than 1,000 emails in a single day, Campbell said, so once you have identified the right journalist to tell your story, don’t get discouraged if your introductory email goes unreturned. Keep your message to one page, highlight the new information you’re bringing to the table, provide context and offer solutions.
3. Pitch the positives. Often accused of focusing solely on the negatives, journalists are always on the lookout for positive stories with new, unique angles, Campbell said. Focusing your message on what’s next in the opioid crisis—whether it’s a conversation about naloxone, prevention, recovery or innovative solutions emerging from the field—will greatly improve your odds of drawing coverage. Be clear with your facts (what sources are you using and why?), show how your data is impacting real people, and offer options for interviews should the journalist pursue a story.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.