“It really is just a huge honor,” Wetherbee said. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m still growing. And to be given this opportunity, it just reminds me that I’m on the right path, doing this work.”
One of only nine U.S. journalists to receive the honor, Wetherbee was recognized for her investigative reporting exploring the criminal justice system in a South Georgia town. Her investigations led to the creation of the true-crime podcast Prison Town. For the podcast, Wetherbee worked with reporting partner Jessica Szilagyi to tell a complex and compelling tale of murder, incarceration and corruption in several prisons in a small Georgia county.
“I kept wrestling with how to make people on the outside care about people on the inside of Georgia’s prisons,” Wetherbee said. “I spent about a year and a half reporting injustices that were happening in the Georgia Department of Corrections. And I found a lot of themes that came up, like understaffing and access to health care. But in that year and a half of reporting, we weren’t really able to dive into the mental health issues that we saw.”
Wetherbee says this fellowship and grant will enable her to dig deeper into the mental health aspects of her investigations. Beginning in September, the Carter Center fellows will pursue innovative mental health journalism projects of their choice during a nonresidential, year-long fellowship. They’ll tackle some of society’s biggest behavioral health challenges and seek to strengthen reporting, drive change in their communities, and help reduce stigma through storytelling. Carter Center U.S. fellows receive a $10,000 stipend to report on approved mental health topics of interest, and they participate in intensive training with leading mental health and journalism experts.
“This fellowship allows me time and mentorship as well as financial support so I can continue to dig in and do this reporting,” Wetherbee explained.
According to the Carter Center, fellows are selected by a committee of current and former journalists, mental health expert, and the U.S. Fellowship Advisory Board, with an emphasis on diversity. The fellowships challenge recipients to delve deeper into learning about mental health and substance use disorders and to share reliable information with the public about behavioral health issues.
“With Prison Town, the goal was to try to tell a true crime story that made people care about prisons,” Wetherbee explained. “Prison is kind of this invisible place where it feels like anything goes. That’s why the reporting and the investigative work are really important. I want to keep digging deeper but now really explore mental health. Continue to find a way to tell those stories in a way that can make people interested; that can make people who have no reason to care, actually care.”
The Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) is a unique partnership between Mercer University, The Telegraph, Georgia Public Broadcasting and 13WMAZ, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Peyton Anderson Foundation. The Center’s groundbreaking collaboration has students, faculty and veteran journalists working together in a joint newsroom. Learning in a “teaching hospital” model, students engage the community using the latest digital tools and leave with a strong portfolio of published work. Learn more at ccj.mercer.edu.