In New York City this week, five GroundTruth reporting fellows got an inside look at the health care system, the opioid crisis and how to navigate privacy laws while doing sensitive health care reporting.

 

The GroundTruth health podcast fellowship kicked off with a panel on the craft of immersive journalism, led by Mary Harris of WNYC’s podcast Only Human and David Boyer of KALW’s The Intersection.

 

The week of intensive training also included a situational awareness seminar with Judith Matloff of the International News Safety Institute, a lesson on how to navigate health privacy laws in care settings from Terry Wrong of ABC News, and best ethics and standards practice with Cathy Hogan, former head of funding policy at PBS.

 

As part of the fellowship, the reporting fellows – all recent graduates of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism – will produce a podcast series exploring the opioid crisis in New York, the challenges to the healthcare system and what solutions are possible.

 

From left, GroundTruth fellows Joaquin Cotler and Michael O’Brien are pictured during a training workshop for the health podcast fellowship. (Edwin J. Torres/GroundTruth)

From left, GroundTruth fellows Joaquin Cotler and Michael O’Brien are pictured during a training workshop for the health podcast fellowship. (Edwin J. Torres/GroundTruth)

One highlight of the week was a conversation with journalist Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, which traces how heroin made its way from rural villages in Mexico to small towns and suburbs across America.

 

“People have been quick to blame doctors, and certainly doctors are a key part of this. Without their overprescribing, you would not have a problem in America today,” Quinones told the fellows. “But I think it’s too easy to blame doctors. Doctors turn to pills because patients were demanding cures. I would be very interested in more stories about what doctors face.”

 

New York doctors who treat people with substance abuse issues told the fellows that in health care, addiction is still a taboo subject – and that’s a major problem. Northwell and other health care providers in New York are grappling with how to integrate addiction treatment into primary care and all other aspects of health care.

 

“This country is well known for stigmatizing mental health and substance abuse,” said Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Director of Screening and Brief Intervention at Northwell. “Addiction care should be a part of mainstream healthcare.”

 

The five fellows – Noah Caldwell, Joaquin Cotler, Stephanie Daniel, Nicole Lewis and Michael O’Brien – bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm for health reporting and the craft of audio storytelling. Healthcare journalist Rachel Gotbaum and multimedia producer Isaac Kestenbaum are leading the project, which is also guided by a three-person advisory committee of CUNY professors.

 

GroundTruth fellow Noah Caldwell (left) takes notes during a session for the health podcast fellowship. (Edwin J. Torres/GroundTruth)

GroundTruth fellow Noah Caldwell (left) takes notes during a session for the health podcast fellowship. (Edwin J. Torres/GroundTruth)

The fellows will be reporting in many of New York’s epicenters of the opioid epidemic, including the South Bronx and Staten Island.

 

“We’re already finding so many layers to this epidemic in New York City – access to treatment, the stigma of addiction, communities struggling to cope,” said fellow Noah Caldwell. “Now we’re excited to take the reporting to the streets of the neighborhoods hit the hardest.”

 

The health podcast fellowship is new for The GroundTruth Project. Supported by the Northwell Foundation, the fellowship is an expansion of GroundTruth’s mission to train and support the next generation of journalists.

 

“This is an extraordinary team of emerging journalists and we are very proud to be working with them and grateful for the support from the Northwell Foundation to make this possible,” said Charles Sennott, founder of The GroundTruth Project. “The launch this week of the podcasting workshop brought together an impressive array of experts and mentors and a solid grounding for this team of fellows as they set out to explore the complex and tangled issues of the opioid epidemic.”