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Marra named Solutions Journalism Network Fellow, seeks applicants for microgrants

Ashton Marra, a teaching assistant professor in the West Virginia University Reed College of Media, is one of 11 journalists named a 2023 Solutions Journalism Network Complicating the Narratives (CTN) Fellow. She will use the fellowship funding to award microgrants to journalists who want to investigate addiction in their communities.

In September 2021, Marra partnered with Jonathan J.K. Stoltman, director of the Opioid Policy Institute, to launch Reporting on Addiction, a collaboration of addiction science experts, professional journalists and journalism educators who aim to improve the way journalists cover news related to substance use.

Ashton Marra speaks to journalists in a newsroom

“As a journalist who worked in Appalachia during the peak of the country’s opioid epidemic, I saw how addiction ravaged our communities, especially in my home state of West Virginia,” Marra said. “News coverage framed this as a crime spree rather than a public health crisis. We [the media] have reinforced this idea that people with addiction have made a choice, that they are criminals, and they should be pushed to the margins of our society – and that, ultimately, leads to death.”

Marra will use CTN funding to award four microgrants to support investigative, solutions-focused reporting that challenges common misunderstandings around addiction, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery for any substance or behavioral addiction. Her hope is that these microgrants will empower journalists to do the important investigative work that explores underlying issues related to substance use and the solutions – or lack thereof – in our communities.

“What the science proves is that addiction is a complicated disease, and journalists should cover it as such,” Marra added. “We’d never blame a diabetic for their chronic medical condition in a news story, so instead of blame, we should focus our work on accurate, scientifically informed narratives that better explain the complexities of addiction. My hope is that reporting these facts will increase knowledge about the disease and, in turn, shift public perception – that people will develop empathy, that families and those struggling with addiction will know where to find support and that lives will be saved.”

The CTN microgrants are just one of the many ways Marra and Stoltman are supporting journalists in their coverage of addiction. Over the past two years, they have offered trainings at professional and student newsrooms across the country – providing the most up-to-date understanding of addiction science, the role of stigma and discrimination and tailored information related to media organizations’ respective cities, states or regions. They also provide media training for addiction medicine and science experts, research-based reporting resources and an expert database.

Microgrant applications will be accepted through Jan. 15, 2024. Three grants of $750 are available to professional journalists, working in a newsroom or freelance, and one $500 grant is available to a student journalist currently working on their undergraduate, master’s or doctoral degree. Journalists and students anywhere in the country are eligible to apply, but preference for one professional microgrant will be given to an Appalachian-based journalist due to the intensity of the addiction crisis in the region and the lack of financial support for Appalachian journalism.

Funds will support investigative stories created in any medium – photo, digital, audio, video or other – and the reporting should extend beyond the daily news cycle and come with a commitment to publish by May 31, 2024. Freelancers should seek a commitment from a newsroom to publish their resulting work prior to applying.

“These microgrants will expand a newsrooms’ ability to deepen their coverage in this critical area,” Marra said. “I know that change doesn’t happen overnight. We know we have to be committed to this initiative long-term in order for things to change, but we’re beginning to see more newsrooms really think about and have conversations about how we cover addiction.”

Visit to access resources including the expert database, to apply for a customized training, to learn more about Reporting on Addiction or to contact members of the team.


Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit