Newspaper reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove wanted to dig deeper into serious mental health issues, but the tools at hand weren’t adequate for the job. That changed dramatically when she received a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.
“I felt like I was digging with a shovel, and The Carter Center gave me a backhoe,” said Cosgrove, a 2015-16 Fellow who works at The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City.
Cosgrove used the fellowship to explore the challenges faced by low-income mental health patients and their families. In a four-part series titled “Epidemic Ignored,” Cosgrove described how county jails had emerged as a poor replacement for closed state mental hospitals, entangling patients in the ill-equipped penal system for lack of a better alternative.
The project has generated much discussion, not only among Oklahoman readers, but also among legislators and government officials.
“A former House speaker has said he thinks my coverage is one of the main reasons that Oklahoma’s leaders are talking about mental illness and criminal justice reform,” Cosgrove said.
Beyond writing news stories, Cosgrove also partnered with a radio station to create a podcast on mental health issues, she leads public forums, and she created a Facebook group where people beyond the newspaper’s readership can participate.
“She’s found a way to connect to a larger audience,” said Rebecca Palpant Shimkets, who administers the fellowship program. “That’s what provided the momentum for some huge impact in her state.”
In November 2016, Oklahomans approved two criminal justice reform measures. Cosgrove’s series is credited with starting the conversation and maintaining the momentum.
“Given the national conversation right now about fake news and distrust of ‘the media,’ I was concerned that some readers might be dismissive and not as trusting,” Cosgrove said. “However, I have seen the opposite. I’ve received several emails from readers, praising the work and thanking me for the coverage. I’ve received emails from lawmakers and business leaders, excited about the series.”
“Jaclyn has really leveraged the opportunity the fellowship provides,” Shimkets said. “She does great research and reporting, and the fellowship provided her with the time she needed to pursue her project in depth.”
Cosgrove said she deeply appreciates the Carter Center’s help with her ongoing project.
“Through this fellowship, I have been able to write stories that hold leaders accountable and raise awareness,” she said. “Our newsroom staff isn’t the size it used to be. … Through this fellowship, we were able to do a project that otherwise likely wouldn’t have happened. I cannot thank Mrs. Carter and her advisors enough.”