Weekly editor-publisher, one of several speakers at Nov. 15 workshop on Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery, tells why and how she covers it, and why you should too

Sharon Burton has been getting national attention for her series “The Cost of Addiction” in her weekly Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Kentucky. On Nov. 15, in Ashland, Ky., she will discuss with journalists how to cover a subject that can be difficult and many don’t want to cover.

“It’s something that’s affecting everyone’s lives, and we need to be talking about it and we need to be looking for solutions,” Burton says in a video interview with Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. IRJCI is sponsoring the workshop with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, where research has shown that the stigma attached to drug abuse inhibits news coverage and community conversations about it.

Burton, who has a local competitor, says in the video that she understands rural journalists’ reluctance: “It’s not a pleasant thing to discuss, and I think a lot pf people feel embarrassed because they’re talking about their loved ones. . . . A lot of times, they’re talking about themselves.” However, people have mostly been cooperative when approached for a story, she says: “They want to help other people. . . . They want to share their experiences and help others.”

Burton says rural newspapers contribute to the stigma of drug abuse when they cover it only as a criminal-justice issue: “We as newspaper people have probably been some of the most cynical when it comes to, you know, ‘Put em in Public Record and throw ’em in jail’ kind of attitude.”

She says the problem is primarily a health issue, but also also affects the general public through higher jail costs and difficulty of employers and prospective employers to find drug-free employees.

At Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery: A Workshop for Journalists, Burton says, “I hope to encourage them” to help their communities: “If nothing else, to say its worth the effort.” For details on the workshop, registration and accommodations, click here. The fee is $50 until Nov. 1 and $60 until Nov. 8, when registration will close. Space is limited.

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