Bloody headlines sell papers, shock jocks garner ratings and television newscasts have mastered the art of the terrifying “something in your home is going to kill you—story at 11” tease.
This is the sewer of discontent that media companies dwell in.
We cover car crashes and train derailments and chronicle sinister events from the underbelly of society. Plodding through the so-called newsworthy events of the day can be draining both for the producer and consumer. A well-written or -produced news story can instill rage, revolution or fear. The other night, I had to put down an article in Gentleman’s Quarterly on the Khmer Rouge because it was too gruesome to read before I fell asleep. And this is a story about crimes that are 35 years old.
The most current story that keeps me awake these days? Heroin.
Last year, the Press uncovered a story about heroin grabbing the youth of Long Island in a death grip. It was a gut-wrenching series that put a new face to the epidemic: a young, white face. Most people assumed there was a prototypical addict—a minority living in the ghetto and on the fringes of society. A hard luck case. Loser. Junkie. And as long as that’s where it stayed, it was a problem only for the cops, the dealers and the junkies themselves.
The truth about human frailties such as drug addiction can be hard to swallow and equally as painful to relay, but it’s what connects reporter to reader and makes a story memorable. On a professional level our heroin series has featured some of our best reporting. It has earned countless awards and letters of praise. Our coverage has been so good, in fact, that the entire series has been essentially lifted and is being re-reported by Newsday a full year later.
Petty differences and newsroom spats aside, the reality is that even we were all tragically late to the story. It was Joye Brown—Newsday’s last remaining link to the real world—who pointed out how the black community has been struggling with heroin for decades. Only now, since the complexion of the heroin user has changed from black to white, is heroin considered an epidemic worthy of publicizing and tackling.
This week Nassau County hosted a “summit” on heroin, and Suffolk County held a press conference announcing a major heroin bust. All of this on the heels of the Newsday “investigation,” which ran a full year after our cover story “Long Highland” first appeared on news stands. Both papers were noticeably negligent, though, when heroin began ravaging poor minority communities on the Island.
We were all late to the party. The good news is we’re all here now. Sorry it took so long.
Perhaps the best outcome is one where our cops receive the support they need to continue fighting in the trenches with our full backing and understanding, and more time and attention is spent on prevention and treatment. Drugs are a plague that brings out the worst in a society; they target the weak and test the strong.
Drugs have torn apart entire communities and robbed families of loved ones. Yet it is here—in the sewer and the underbelly—that a strange sense of optimism is bursting through. Dealers have been put on notice by a confluence of strange bedfellows including the media, the government, law enforcement, families, victims and advocates of Long Island.
Heroin may be winning small battles but it has chosen the wrong place to wage war.