2017 Topical Reporting, Small Newsroom winner


An interactive multimedia health storytelling project

Jess Mador, Matt Shafer Powell, Phil Batta, Leslie Snow and team

AIR: Finding America

Topical Reporting, Small Newsroom


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About the Project

This entry’s stories were produced for TruckBeat, an interactive multimedia health storytelling project about Appalachian East Tennessee.

TruckBeat launched in November, 2015, with a mission to find and tell underreported stories in places not often reflected in public media and create a new model of community engagement journalism.

TruckBeat was created by independent producer Jess Mador, in partnership with Matt Shafer Powell at WUOT, Knoxville’s NPR-member station. TruckBeat’s executive producer was AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, as part of AIR’s Localore: Finding America national initiative.

Our Model

We transformed a bread truck into a recording studio and used it to start new conversations online and on the street about community health issues, including obesity, mental health, addiction, access to health care, and why ZIP code may matter more to health than genetics.

The truck was a mobile gathering place, part billboard, part listening booth. We’d park in different Knoxville neighborhoods and collect people’s responses to health questions in writing, audio, video and photos. And we used Hearken to collect hundreds of audience questions.

Producing across platforms – broadcast, digital, social, street – created a “feedback loop” of collecting audience ideas, incorporating them into stories, sharing stories on social media, sparking more ideas, more reporting and more storytelling.

Entry Topic: Health Disparities And Addiction

A WUOT survey found health issues were major concerns in the community. Data show the region suffers more chronic health conditions than other parts of the country. Many people in Southern Appalachia lack adequate access to doctors, healthy food or transportation.

TruckBeat investigated the impacts of these health disparities in rural and urban communities.

We also reported extensively on disparities related to the opioid crisis.

The state of Tennessee has the second-highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the country. But in East Tennessee there’s a dramatic shortage of addiction treatment.

We traced the epidemic to Roane County, a rural Appalachian town outside of Knoxville where addiction was changing the community’s way of life. Overdoses were skyrocketing. People were overwhelmed, searching for solutions.

In February, 2016, the county launched a new drug treatment court. We documented the first day of court and followed the story over the next five months, producing nearly two dozen multimedia stories about the county’s efforts to combat addiction.

Our work helped us build trust with people in Roane County. In July, 2016, TruckBeat partnered with community leaders to host a live event called Roane Is Better Together, staged at a historic theatre in the remote mountain town of Harriman.

The show featured TruckBeat’s stories, a panel discussion with mental health experts, residents touched by the opioid epidemic and live audience storytelling. Health organizations conducted health education and outreach in the theatre lobby.

More than 300 people attended. Our partners saw it as a replicable model for engaging with residents about health and addiction issues. This summer Roane County organizations are planning their own Roane Is Better Together-style live show.

Other community impacts include the adoption of TruckBeat’s health stories by Knoxville teachers and nurses, who use them as educational tools.

Addiction advocates, the Roane County district attorney and sheriff’s offices also screen our videos to promote criminal justice reform and the expansion of collaborative drug treatment programs across East Tennessee.