Murrow Award-winning work tackles opioid crisis

September 10, 2018 11:00

Murrow Award winners each year show a snapshot of the year’s biggest stories. Scroll the list of winning work to relive the year’s breaking stories and get a glimpse into the collective social consciousness of the moment. This year, investigations, series and long-form winners coalesced around an increasingly urgent issue: the opioid crisis.

Illustrating the devastating impact of opioid addiction on communities, highlighting the hope that recovery can bring, and unveiling the systems complicit in the epidemic’s spread, Murrow Award-winning reports this year covered the opioid crisis from every angle. These are just a few: ABC News’ Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas covered multiple unique angles of the issue in a 5-part series for ABC News Radio, “America’s Fentanyl Crisis.”

The winning series shows it doesn’t long to tell a powerful story, offering several powerful, highly visual vignettes.

Through careful reporting, the series brings together a series of powerful pictures and insightful interviews, beginning by illustrating the danger of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, through describing drug officers’ hazmat-like required safety equipment when busting a suspected drug lab as well as one officer’s medical scare following accidental contact.

With the danger clearly illustrated, the reporting also captures multiple perspectives with powerful interviews from law enforcement, neighbors indirectly affected, people in recovery, and medical units.

“If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction…it’s fentanyl,” a recently retired Drug Enforcement Agency official told Thomas, likening the development of fentanyl for drug cartels to tech companies releasing new versions of devices, showing just how established the underground industry is.

The piece is also a master class in news writing. With an economy of words, the report uses data, comparisons and clear descriptions to illustrate the depth and breadth of the crisis and share key facts about the synthetic drug, including that it is:
  • 50 times more powerful than heroin.
  • 100 times more powerful than morphine.
  • Cheaper and easier to produce than heroin.
  • So toxic the DEA warned law enforcement to take precautions.
In another key interview, a forensic lab director told Thomas how this crisis differs than other illegal drug epidemics, saying, “We’ve never had deaths…like we do now."

Clear facts, powerful individual stories and key interviews combined to make this piece a winning news series and an example of how to report on a complex issue. Learn more on the series and how it was made from Pierre Thomas at “What it takes to be a Murrow Award winner” at Excellence in Journalism 2018.