Mercury’s project on heroin addiction wins DFMie

The Mercury’s Fatal Addiction project on heroin abuse won the March DFMie for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster of Digital First Media.

Mercury Editor Nancy March explained in her nomination:

Reporters Frank Otto, Carl Hessler Jr. and former reporter Brandie Kessler interviewed dozens of counselors, police, prosecutors, judges, addiction experts, methadone clinic managers, parents, and recovering addicts for an in-depth look at heroin’s tragic effects in our towns. The four-part series in print and blog presentation by Diane Hoffman and Eileen Faust included compelling interviews with two mothers whose sons were best friends and OD’ed eight months apart.

Another young woman talks of her former addiction showing the realism of heroin in middle-class America. Police describe how it affects all our lives in increased suburban crime. We also examine the issue of addiction starting in medicine cabinets with prescribed pain killers and sedatives. Compelling photos and video by Kevin Hoffman and John Strickler completed the package.

Judges praised the project:

The breadth and depth of this news package is an example of how trend pieces and investigative stories ought to done. Newsrooms often fail readers by giving them a snapshot into a problem — quick reads related to a crime, or statistics. The Mercury staff tackled the heroin epidemic from all angles. They served their readers well. In reading the series, my ‘what about?’ questions routinely were answered. Fantastic reporting. Strong writing. Great photographs. Excellent use of digital tools. Not a weak link in the chain. Superb.

Another judge:

The series tackled all sides of the problem, including the effects on crime and the difficulty of getting people clean in treatment. Yes, we heard from police, prosecutors and a judge. But most compelling were two personal stories, one that ended happily and one that did not.

Nikki Golden’s story of how her ‘I nevers’ became her life shows us heroin addiction’s roots in prescription drug abuse, helping us understand why people use in the first place — and how the addiction can quickly grow beyond their control. Her drug court success story contrasts with the wrenching story of Stephen Watchorn and Trevor Mackie, effectively told through their mothers.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster of Digital First Media.

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