When Erin Marie Daly became a journalist, she did so with the intention of giving a voice to the underrepresented whose stories aren’t otherwise being told. But the tables were turned when she decided to report the story of her own brother’s downfall into prescription drug and heroin use, set against the backdrop of what was becoming a burgeoning public health crisis.
She approached the story moving backwards in time from the point of her brother’s overdose death, trying to get as close to the truth of what happened as possible—without the main source’s input—seeking to build his story based on rigorous research that included court documents, her brother’s personal diaries, medical records, and interviews with those who knew him during his darkest times. She also sought to buttress this evidence with interviews with current or recovering addicts and their families and friends, police officers, medical examiners, rehab workers, addiction specialists, and other experts in the field of addiction who were witnessing and experiencing the devastation of the opioid epidemic. One of the biggest challenges in human interest journalism is getting people to trust and open up when they have no reason to do so; for the reporter, there is also the fine balance between extracting the information you need while still being a decent human being and treating sources with respect, and being conscious of the tendency to pathologize.
For Daly, this project highlighted the inherent unreliability of memory and whether it was possible to convey her brother’s experience and that of her other sources, and forced her to grapple with the question of whether this endeavor was useful as a piece of journalism (i.e., did it meet the high standards of good reporting? Did it add knowledge and information to the world that was an accurate reflection of a societal problem? Was it true, or close enough to the truth? Would it be useful as an agent of change in terms of public opinion/policy? etc.) or simply a way for me to process my personal pain.
About the Speaker
Erin Marie Daly is a freelance journalist with a passion for writing about cultural and human interest stories. She has a background in legal reporting and founded Oxy Watchdog, a blog about painkiller and heroin addiction. Her first book, Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death, and America’s Opiate Crisis, was published in August 2014. The book was honored as a winner in the 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards in the Social Sciences category, and as a winner in the “Health: Addiction and Recovery” and “Non-Fiction: Narrative” categories of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.
About the Series
Linda Randall Meier Research Workshop
Sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Center and made possible by support from Linda Randall Meier, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities
Watch the event video (Please note that the discussion focuses on loss and addiction, which can be upsetting.)