Facing final exams, graduation and today’s competitive job market, college students are overwhelmed this time of year. This week, a new student reporting project explores how many students use so-called “study drugs” to deal with pressure.

In a new experimental storytelling course, students at the West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism investigated the nationwide trend of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drug abuse among college students – focusing in particular on their classmates at WVU.

What makes this project unique – beyond the subject matter – is the way it was created. The in-depth reporting project, “The Drug Next Door,” was designed to be experienced primarily on smartphones. The story incorporates a mix of data visualization, audio, video, social media and traditional boots-on-the-ground reporting.

The School’s first Ogden Newspapers Innovator-in-Residence Sarah Slobin, senior graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, co-taught the course with Associate Professor John Temple and Assistant Professor Dana Coester. Through the Innovator-in-Residence program, the School of Journalism is able to bring to campus top media professionals who are leading experimental change in their own newsrooms.

Coester says the program is designed to connect students with media innovators who are tackling new challenges in the industry.

“Industry experts, like Sarah, are at the forefront of coming up with new solutions for storytelling, and this lets students become a part of that process,” said Coester.

In this case, students were responding to the current challenge of how to design and develop a news project for mobile for mobile delivery. A story experienced on a mobile device requires the process of “atomization” (or breaking it down into smaller parts) that make the story more user-friendly for a mobile audience.

Beyond taking a mobile-first approach, students were also challenged to work outside their areas of expertise and traditional silos.

Throughout the spring semester, journalism students worked as a trans-disciplinary team with students from WVU’s creative arts and engineering colleges to produce the data-driven, device-centric project from conceptualization to published product.

“We worked across disciplines in this project – from polling to data to multimedia to social media – so there was always a chance to learn something and always a chance to make mistakes,” said Slobin. “It’s not an easy way to work, but given how fluid the digital storytelling landscape is in journalism, learning how to fail fast and fail gracefully is an excellent skill set.”

Journalism senior Bryan Bumgardner says the class was unlike any other journalism course he has taken.

“By forcing us to do multiple things – and not just the thing we’re really good at – that pushed us outside our comfort zone,” said Bumgardner. “That’s how it should always be if journalism is going to survive. A writer should never have to ask a developer, ‘Can we do that?’ You should already have a sense of whether it’s doable or not.”

Mentorship within the class from industry professionals enabled an immersive experience for students that cannot be matched in traditional curriculum. In addition to working closely with Slobin, students interacted weekly with other journalists through Google+ Hangouts, including Megan Thee, editor for news surveys at The New York Times; Mark Scheffler, deputy editor for video at The Wall Street Journal; Brian Boyer, news applications editor at NPR; and Greg Pliska, music composer for film, theater and television.

In addition, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, a 2009 School of Journalism alumna and producer/director of the Peabody award-winning Hollow, worked with the students on content strategy and curation, editing and outreach. Using her experience in self-distribution and marketing of Hollow, Sheldon also helped the team develop a plan to market and promote the story to multiple audiences.

“The Drug Next Door” went live today and can be accessed at http://drugnextdoor.com/. For more information, contact Dana Coester (dana.coester@mail.wvu.edu) or John Temple (john.temple@mail.wvu.edu).



CONTACT: Kimberly Walker, School of Journalism
304.293.5726, Kimberly.Walker@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.