School of Communication student Mallorie Latora was chosen as the inaugural GradBird Scholar for her research examining how newspapers are covering the opioid abuse crisis.

Last September, the Graduate School began recognizing a graduate student each month for their scholarly endeavors. A committee of graduate students, faculty, and staff select a new recipient based on the quality of their research and how well they can explain it to a general audience. Winners are featured on social media and receive a monetary award.

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“Our graduate students are essential to the University community,” said Graduate School Interim Director Noelle Selkow. “We want to showcase them in this new way. As an added bonus, prospective students get a glimpse of what life is like and opportunities available to our graduate students.”

For her study, Latora examined news articles from states with high rates of opioid-related deaths and from states with low rates of opioid-related deaths to gain a better understanding of the messages presented by journalists and news forums. What was interesting were the stark differences between how the crisis was discussed per state, she said.

“What I was looking for was how were they describing these drugs, what are the causes and the solutions to (overdoses), who is at fault for the opioid crisis. And then I wanted to see what are the solutions they are offering,” she said. “States with lower rates of opioid overdose ended up having a lot more (stories) about prevention.

“States with the high opioid overdose were really looking at how do we fix it and how do we keep these people alive. And then the low states of opioid overdose were looking at how do we prevent this from happening.”

These contrasts in coverage were important for understanding how each state could begin to solve their issues with these drugs, she said. Latora presented the paper last spring at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas.

“Not only was this something I could add to my resume, the skill of performing research in this way is something I am taking with me through my next year of graduate school,” Latora said. “I will be using similar research methods for my thesis and would like to continue using a similar method throughout my educational career.”

The Graduate School will choose eight GradBird Scholars throughout the school year. The final recipient will be selected in April.

For more information about the GradBird Scholar program or to submit a self-nomination form, visit