The responsibility of the journalist in reporting on drug use
Drug and alcohol memoirs tend to end one way: in abstinence. While a message of ‘redemption’ might seem inspiring on the surface, it also casts judgement on substance users, and its all-or-nothing message may deter the cohort that could benefit from just quitting one substance.
In the final chapter of my book Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment, I decided to be open about my occasional substance use. I had recently written a feature for The Saturday Paper about AOD researchers who were considering risking their careers by ‘outing themselves’ as substance users. By doing so they might help reduce stigma and ‘othering’, and could even utilise their lived experience in their research. It would also be in keeping with their desire for decriminalisation; in fact, they saw it as their social responsibility. I felt that could be applied to my own work This presentation will examine the potential of the journalist with lived experience for broadening conversations about drug use beyond that sanctioned by the War on Drugs paradigm. I have written articles about the use of psychedelics as therapeutic tools – which even AA’s Bill W was an advocate of, lest we forget – and about the benefits of open conversations about drug use, such as with the Dutch YouTube show, Drugslab. Further afield, I will examine the work of journalists such as Hamilton Morris, Maia Szalavitz and the writers behind The Influence, who move beyond the labels of ‘addicts’ and ‘drug abusers’.
JENNY VALENTISH is the author of Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment (Black Inc, 2017), which crunched 300 studies and 35 firsthand interviews into a book for the laywoman. The Guardian called it "a startling and thorough investigation into the relationship between gender, trauma and addiction, and the women who fall through the gaps." Valentish has written about alcohol and drug issues for The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Big Issue. She is the former editor of Time Out (Melbourne) and also Triple J’s magazine, Jmag. She is a member of the reference team behind AOD Media Watch, dedicated to highlighting inaccurate, stigmatising and sensationalist media stories about drug issues.