The annual student journalism conference, NASH84, will be held online from Feb. 25 to 27 and will feature professional workshops, Q&A segments, and an awards ceremony on the last day. The three-day event will invite journalists and educators from across the country to speak and hold the workshops in front of aspiring journalism students.
On Feb. 26, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm EST, KPU journalism and communications instructor Aaron Goodman will present his project “Digitally Memorializing the Overdose Crisis.” Goodman was awarded the 2020 KPU Chancellor’s Chair Award to fund his collaborative research project to honour individuals touched by the ongoing opioid overdose crisis.
“The broader mission of the work is to challenge the dominant media narrative which has been historically very stigmatizing about people who use substances,” says Goodman. “It’s one of those projects where we just facilitate conversations around grief.”
By the end of 2021, 2,224 individuals died from suspected illicit drug overdoses, the highest yearly tally ever and a 26 per cent rise over the number of deaths in 2020, a British Columbia Coroners Service report found. Because of the pandemic, the B.C. opioid crisis has been overlooked, leading families and friends without a space to grieve their lost loved ones.
“When you see the numbers on the news, the stats just seem like numbers but each person was someone who was still so loved,” said Jenna Keeble, a project research assistant. “It’s really important that we make a record, or else we let the government make the record and they’re not going to take accountability for all these preventable deaths.”
Through their research, Goodman and his team discovered that opioid overdose was prevalent in areas outside urban centers as well as within them. The lack of access to harm reduction, healthcare, housing, and psychosocial support are only some of the contributing factors for this disparity.
Goodman’s researchers have opted for a “participatory” journalistic approach, in which guests are invited to speak candidly rather than be formally reported on. The final podcast will remain uncut.
The researchers recorded audio conversations remotely with participants throughout B.C., and Goodman and his team collaborated with the organizations Moms Stop The Harm and Ankors to reach interested participants in Prince George and Cranbrook.
This project also aims to challenge the idea of who is remembered. The obituaries in newspapers are paid for by family members who had the means, but not everyone is so fortunate.
Ashley Pocrnich, also a project research assistant with Goodman, says a participant thanked her after an interview. “He was like, ‘Thank you, Ashley, you will probably never know how good it was for me to have the space to just talk.’”
Goodman wants to see this project reach a successful end because the “real voices of the people” are too often dismissed.
“What this project really does is say, ‘Look, we’re grieving the loss of the dearest people in our lives,’ so it is a call to do more. We have to do more. So we’re going to invite policymakers to listen,” says Goodman.