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KOSU welcomes Sierra Pfeifer as mental health, addiction reporter

Sierra Pfeifer is KOSU's mental health and addiction reporter.
Sarah Liese
Sierra Pfeifer is KOSU's mental health and addiction reporter.

Another new voice is coming to KOSU.

Sierra Pfeifer starts this month as a corps member for Report for America. This national service program, which is run by the nonprofit news organization The Groundtruth Project, places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

“KOSU is excited to welcome Sierra to Oklahoma City,” said KOSU executive director Rachel Hubbard. “She will fill important gaps in mental health care reporting.”

Pfeifer is a native of Hillsborough, North Carolina and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism and Spanish. At UNC, Pfeifer was the audio editor for the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. She also served as the producer for Carolina Connection, a student-run radio show covering higher education, and worked as a reporter for local radio station 97.9 The Hill.

This year, Pfeifer participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio fellowship, where she produced a non-narrated audio story covering modern ties to “home” in the American South. She also won first place in the 2024 National Hearst Audio Competition for her news coverage.

“I am excited to be joining such a motivated team and to be reporting on a topic that feels so impactful,” Pfeifer said. “I hope my coverage helps reduce misconceptions, highlights solutions and underscores the importance of talking and thinking about mental health and addiction.”

Oklahoma has among the highest rates in the country for mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Based on 2020 data, 25.6% of the state’s population struggles with a mental illness, and 16.1% have a substance abuse disorder. Between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans need services, but less than 20% of those in need are receiving care. This gap has an impact on the health care, education and criminal justice systems.

However, the scant news coverage of these systems in the state treats the issues primarily as symptoms without connecting the dots to the larger issues. Additionally, Oklahoma and tribal nations that reside within the state were among the first to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Report for America leverages a unique funding match model. It pays half of a corps member’s salary while encouraging and supporting its local news partners to raise money for the other half.

Pfeifer joins current third-year RFA corps members Graycen Wheeler and Anna Pope, who cover water, agriculture and rural affairs.

Find out more about how to help fund her coverage here.

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The KOSU news team curates news of interest to Oklahomans from various sources around the world. Our hope is inform, educate, and entertain.
Sierra Pfeifer is a reporter covering mental health and addiction at KOSU. She joined KOSU in July 2024 as a corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative that places emerging journalists in newsrooms across the country.
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