Imagine this: News media setting aside competitive instincts because they want to do good in their communities. Here’s what’s happening in the long-disrespected Youngstown-Warren area of Northeast Ohio, ravaged by the opioid crisis. These are rustbelt communities that were devastated by steel-mill closing more than 30 years ago, and they are still waiting for help.
Reporters and editors will sit at tables with citizens and discuss what we’ve seen regarding the opioid/heroin crisis and discuss solutions that are available to us. Does that cross ethical guidelines, or is that a new way for journalists to share what they know?
Is it possible that we’ll see citizens seizing power? Here’s a story we published in the Mahoning Valley at the beginning of October:
Three reporters in the Mahoning Valley, Renee Fox, Jordyn Grzelewski, and Lindsay McCoy, have worked aggressively in recent years exposing the death and destruction wrought by the heroin crisis, yet despite their dire warnings on television, on the web and in newspapers, the situation here has worsened dramatically.
In Trumbull County, opioid deaths grew at a rate far faster than the state from 2013-15 and Trumbull now is the seventh-worst county in one of the four worst states in the country. Mahoning is only slightly better.
Lest you think the more than 700 deaths – yes, 700 — in the two counties since 2010 are not your concern, consider: More than a dozen of those were truck drivers. At least 19 prepared food for public consumption. More than 20 were in the health care industry working as nurses, pharmacists, health aides and drawing blood.
There were police, security guards and more than a dozen who assembled automobiles. For every user who died there may be scores of users still working those jobs.
What are opioids? They include prescription pain killers, heroin and fentanyl.
Worried yet? Wonder what can be done?
The three reporters from the Warren Tribune Chronicle, Youngtown Vindicator and WFMJ-TV view themselves as part of the community and want to be part of the effort to turn the opioid crisis around.
Their editors and news directors share the concern.
In an effort unique to U.S. journalism, the Tribune Chronicle, Vindicator and WFMJ are setting aside their competitive instincts on this issue to launch a community conversation aimed at solutions. Those sessions will occur Oct. 22-24 in Struthers and target neighborhoods in Warren and Youngstown –selected because maps of deaths show they have been deeply affected.
Covering the media collaboration as well as assisting in the coverage will be reporter Tim Ruddell at WKSU National Public Radio at Kent State University.
The community sessions start with the assumption that public policy decisions and adequate funding from the state and national levels aren’t going to happen soon. There must be a community vision with more citizens taking responsibility. People will be asked whether opioids have affected their lives and how. They’ll be asked how the valley would look if it were successfully turning the crisis around and what must be done to do so.
The Mahoning Valley media initiative is part of a larger Your Voice Ohio/Ohio Media Project. What is learned in the Mahoning Valley will be transferred to other communities around the state – Dayton, Middletown, Akron-Canton among them. The funding and organizational leadership comes from the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan public engagement organization in St. Paul, Minn.
The Jefferson Center has secured $250,000 in support from the Democracy Fund and $75,000 from the John
- and James L. Knight Foundation for Your Voice Ohio and a companion project in Appalachian
Southeast Ohio, led by Journalism That Matters.
Andrew Rockway, the Jefferson Center’s Program Director, is leading the initiative in Ohio. “To address the opioid epidemic, we need to better understand it. We can only do that if we’re listening to community members, engaging community members, and providing communities with the information they need to take productive action,” he said.
There are several leadership groups watching the media effort to determine how best to aid the attack on opioids. Among them are the local judicial system, the Youngstown City Club, the Ohio Civility Consortium. and the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a national nonpartisan organization that has identified Ohio as a state ripe for constructive citizen action.
“This is the type of forward-thinking and collaborative approach that Revive Civility Ohio encourages, said Lauren Litton, coordinator of the program, sponsored by NICD. “People with diverse perspectives must find ways to collectively explore solutions to pervasive issues, like the opioid epidemic, that are eroding our communities.”
Planning this project already has required a change among media partners. The three reporters and TV news director Mona Alexander, Youngstown editors Todd Franko and Mark Sweetwood and Warren editor Brenda Linert have winced on occasion as they’ve thought setting aside their desire to have better stories than their competitors. For this project, they’re willing to share each other’s work.
They see this as a life-or-death situation too important to let their own competitive spirits get in the way.
To help the journalists prepare answers you need and to begin collecting ideas, email your thoughts on root causes of the crisis and your solutions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or the local reporter at your news organization, (Insert email address for Renee, Jordyn or Lindsay, depending on news outlet.)
Coming next week: Solutions that have worked in other communities and could be applied in the Mahoning Valley.