WVU
A WVU Reed College of Media student takes photos at a train station during the 2018 project.

A rural and urban university have teamed up to provide a deep dive into the opioid epidemic in Appalachia. This investigative reporting collaboration is an effort to transcend media biases and address a serious issue from multiple perspectives.

West Virginia University Reed College of Media alumnus Scott Widmeyer began funding a cross-university reporting project with his alma mater and the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs a year ago. Now he’s doubling down to extend the project with the hope of bursting long-standing “media bubbles.”

The first project, which began in Spring 2018, assessed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s economic and environmental impact in West Virginia.

This time, six students from WVU and four from GW are tackling the opioid epidemic. They have spent the semester doing research and field work at their respective universities and, like last year, the project will culminate with a four-week intensive collaboration where the students will be immersed in each other’s communities.

The students represent two very different geographic and cultural perspectives. WVU is a public university located in rural Appalachia and GW is a private university situated in urban, Washington D.C. Widmeyer, who is dedicated to strengthening public affairs communications and supporting a wide range of journalistic endeavors, wants to bring people from different backgrounds together to create content that reflects all points of view. This is the driving force behind his continued support. In addition, Scott’s father, Douglas Widmeyer of Martinsburg, is providing funding support for the 2019 endeavor.

“Good journalism is crying out for support around the world. I believe we must start early and that begins with our students on the college level. We have been very impressed with the joint reporting project between WVU and GW. It’s a way to give deserving students a first shot at collaboration and investigative reporting techniques,” Widmeyer said.

He added, “The media is and will continue to be a force for good, and a force for change and progress in our society. That’s what we are hoping to instill in these 10 students who are working on the opioid project.”

Through this investigative reporting experience, students will learn how to take a deep dive into a topic. In mid-April, GW students will make their first trip to West Virginia. They will be embedded in a community affected by the opioid epidemic, giving them context that is vital to good journalism. In the end, each student will produce a story, but the collaborative efforts will be pitched to a national media outlet.

“The students have a shared sense of purpose that is bringing them together despite their geographic barriers,” said Emily Corio, teaching associate professor at the WVU Media College, and a project faculty advisor. “They’re eager to be part of a hands-on, real reporting project that will have impact, not only on the communities they’re covering but also on their future journalism careers.”

Widmeyer is the founding managing partner and chief strategy officer for Finn Partners, a growing global communications firm in Washington, D.C. He chairs the GW National Council for the School of Media and Public Affairs and held a similar role with the WVU College of Media. He graduated with a journalism degree from WVU in 1975, was a newspaper reporter in the 1970s, founded Widmeyer Communications in 1988 and sold Widmeyer Communications to Finn Partners in 2013. He is active in many civic and philanthropic causes. Scott and his family have established scholarship programs and one professorship at WVU. Widmeyer also is the recipient of several prestigious honors including the “Distinguished West Virginian Award” and being named to the PR News Hall of Fame.