By Kasey Brammell
A documentary produced by students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication about a disturbing rise in youth suicide in Arizona is on track to reach one million people across the state.
“Life Is…,” which was produced by Cronkite students under the supervision of Cronkite Visiting Professor David Ariosto, was simulcast on Jan. 12 in English and Spanish on all major commercial television stations in the state, as well as on Arizona PBS and Spanish-language stations. In all, 27 television stations aired the project simultaneously.
The documentary project was created through the support of the Arizona Community Foundation and the Arizona Broadcasters Association.
“Several dozen Cronkite students and faculty worked over the course of an entire year, during a pandemic, to report and produce this documentary in the conviction that they could make a difference,” said Kristin Gilger, interim dean of the Cronkite School. “What many didn’t expect was how much of a difference working on this project would make in their own lives as they grew to understand the many complex factors that contribute to youth suicide and the many people affected. We’re grateful to the Arizona Community Foundation and the Arizona Broadcasters Association for making this important work possible.”
About 600,000 people viewed “Life Is…” during the television simulcast and about 400,000 more are expected to experience the documentary through radio broadcasts. Almost 100 Arizona radio stations plan to air the documentary in various formats, said Chris Kline, president and CEO of the Arizona Broadcasters Association.
A number of radio stations in Phoenix are broadcasting “Life Is…” as community affairs shows, while other radio stations across the state have dedicated time slots to the documentary, Kline said. That’s helping to continue the conversation on suicide and mental health, he said.
“Television was about getting out to the market with the highest possible reach. Radio is about how do we keep it going and achieve an echo effect,” Kline said.
“Life Is….” also commanded a strong audience on social media platforms, reaching more than 160,000 people on Facebook alone,
“Well done. An important piece for awareness. Love to see the youth support network,” one commenter wrote.
On Twitter, the documentary received a combined total of 33,000 impressions, with an engagement rate more than twice as high as normal. In all, social media and digital advertising had an overall combined total of 679,000 impressions.
The documentary was accompanied by a series of digital stories on Cronkite News, the news arm of Arizona PBS, and were distributed to news organizations around the state for re-publication.
The youth suicide project follows a multi-year partnership between the Cronkite School and Arizona broadcasters to shed light on some of Arizona’s most pressing issues. In both 2015 and 2017, the Cronkite School produced documentaries for air across the state about alarming rises in prescription opioid abuse. The first documentary was watched live by an estimated 1 million Arizona viewers and won numerous honors, including the region’s top Emmy and a national Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.