For news desks pleading complete poverty, the U.K. charity DrugScope has produced a free pamphlet (PDF) titled The Media Guide to Drugs: Key Facts and Figures for Journalists, which serves up 140-pages of basic, nonhysterical information about drugs and drug law. Although U.K.-centric, especially in its legal references, the pamphlet's contents are easily translatable to the American scene.
Guardian media blogger Roy Greenslade, who hypes the pamphlet today, also contributed a blurb for its cover that's worth reproducing in full. He writes:
This guide will surely help the next generation of journalists because it deals with facts that counter ignorance and prejudice. I believe it will prove invaluable.
I'm not as enthusiastic about the pamphlet's pointers on how journalists should cover drug stories as I'd like to be. In my experience, most drug journalism falters because the reporters and editors behind the stories don't ask the skeptical and probing questions they would if they were covering a business or political story. They don't question the numbers the drug warriors give them or the anecdotal accounts of users. They don't look for authoritative information in the medical literature or in academia. They don't even bother to consult Nexis, which contains brilliant articles (not just mine!) that tell the truth about drug-related death, meth-mouth, pot potency, glue sniffing, and more.
But those are quibbles. In a Q&A section, The Media Guide to Drugs smartly implores reporters to ask the essential questions when writing their stories, such as, "What happens when someone takes more than one drug at a time?" and "Why do some people respond so differently to the same drug?" and "Can you become instantly dependent on a drug?" It counsels journalists to seek drug statistics from reliable sources, but even then to be skeptical of data that are under-reported or make unsupportable claims. The sources the pamphlet points to are all British, of course, but any reporter with a Web browser can find their U.S. equivalents with the help of Google.
Those who cover the police, the courts, popular culture, or the legislative and administrative machines should keep a copy of The Media Guide to Drugs for quick reference. It presents more debunking of facts, encourages more sensible doubt, and kills more dangerous preconceptions than any sized volume. Download it. Now.