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In a highly unusual collaboration, every broadcast TV station and most radio outlets across Arizona will air simultaneously a 30-minute commercial-free investigative report produced by Arizona State University student journalists on the growing perils of heroin and opioid use.
Teams of advanced journalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication also will produce packages of digital stories and data analyses available on the Web, an accompanying mobile tablet app, and Spanish-language and radio versions of the documentary.
The statewide simulcast of “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona” will air Jan. 13 on the 33 broadcast TV stations in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma and 90 of the state’s radio stations. The air time will be 6:30 p.m. on most stations.
Art Brooks, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Broadcasters Association, developed the idea after learning of the seriousness of the issue and organized the backing of the state’s broadcast industry.
“The scourge of heroin and opioid addiction is killing hundreds of Arizonans, and the growing problem is reaching epidemic levels,” Brooks said. “Broadcast stations are fiercely competitive, but our industry leaders are bonding together on this public danger in order to save lives.”
During and after the telecast, the ABA will sponsor a call center for viewers seeking counseling or more information on heroin and opioid addiction. A 100-phone center with trained counselors will be set up in the studios of Arizona PBS on the sixth floor of the Cronkite Building on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.
Gordon Smith, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, lauded the Arizona initiative.
“It is nothing short of extraordinary to have every TV broadcaster in a state come together and jointly agree to air – commercial free in a widely viewed time slot – an important piece of public service journalism,” said Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon who leads the trade association of the nation’s TV and radio broadcasters.
“It is a testament to the greater leadership of the Arizona Broadcasters Association and the general managers across the state and their tremendous commitment to their communities,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that the Cronkite heroin project will make a real impact on this critical public health issue and save lives.”
The Arizona Broadcasters Association championed a similar project in 2008. That special report, which focused on crystal meth in Arizona, was produced by an out-of-state company. Brooks said the Arizona general managers would only agree to donate their airtime again if the new project was produced by the Cronkite School.
“The ABA and the leaders of Arizona’s broadcast stations have great confidence in the Cronkite School’s students and faculty and their ability to produce a powerful, objective and informative 30-minute TV special that we will be proud to air on all of our stations,” said Brooks, a member of the Cronkite Endowment Board of Trustees.
Cronkite is devoting eight faculty members and 70 students to the semester-long project.
“We are activating the full resources of the Cronkite School for this critically important project,” said Dean Christopher Callahan. “It is a great testament to our fantastic students and professors that the state’s broadcast industry has such faith in their work and abilities.”
The special TV report is spearheaded by a team of students led by Jacquee Petchel, a Cronkite professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and editor.
Another Pulitzer winner, Knight Chair Steve Doig, is leading a team of students who are analyzing data on more than 10 million Arizona hospital emergency room cases, including more than 2,000 heroin overdoses, as well as census demographics to pinpoint the patterns and hot spots of heroin abuse.
The Cronkite News bureau in Phoenix, led by Steve Elliott, a Cronkite professor and former Associated Press bureau chief in Phoenix, is producing a series of multimedia stories for the Web that will be available to all media outlets.
The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, directed by Retha Hill, former vice president of Black Entertainment Television and a digital media pioneer, is creating a tablet app on the history of heroin.
The Cronkite Public Insight Network Bureau, led by veteran public radio journalist Rebecca Blatt, is deploying the network to locate sources not previously tapped by journalists.
Associate Professor Fran Matera and students in the Cronkite Public Relations Lab are producing a strategic communications plan for the TV special. The Arizona Newspapers Association is encouraging newspapers across the state to run promotional ads for the special report.
The TV stations committed to the simulcast include:
KAZT-TV (IND) Prescott-Phoenix
KNAZ-TV (NBC) Flagstaff
KUAT-TV (PBS)/ KUAS-TV (UNIV. OF AZ)