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Sensitivity, persistence yield uncommon look at challenges facing Baltimore addicts

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To deliver compelling reporting on challenges faced by addicts in Baltimore, reporter Lea Skene and photographer Julio Cortez used persistence and thoughtfulness to gain access to a drug treatment van and its patients. The result was a deeply reported window into the lives of people facing tough choices as they try to recover.

Skene came across the Spot van reporting on a January shootout that left two dead. She ended up talking with city officials who agreed to let them spend some time shadowing medical staff and patients.
Cortez and Skene spent the next few months visiting the van regularly, spending several hours a week hanging out inside the van and talking with patients while they waited outside.

One of the biggest challenges was building relationships with patients in hopes of following them through the program and documenting their experiences over time, as well as their lives outside the clinic. Two subjects disappeared for weeks, so Cortez and Skene just kept showing up at the van waiting for them to come back and both eventually did. Another challenge was writing with sensitivity and empathy — without glossing over the daily realities of living with addiction. That also meant striking an appropriate balance between fact-checking where possible, while also allowing people to tell their own stories and understanding they might be embarrassed or ashamed of certain details.

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