A farewell to WBHM’s Mary Scott Hodgin

 1623686050 
1717142774

Friday is a bittersweet day WBHM as we say goodbye to our longtime health and science reporter Mary Scott Hodgin.

Mary Scott joined WBHM in 2018 after freelancing for the station for several years. In addition to a strong interest in Alabama’s biodiversity and medical landscape, she has reported extensively on the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues related to mental health care and criminal justice.

From 2019 through 2022, Mary Scott led the development of WBHM’s first narrative podcast, Deliberate Indifference, which traces how Alabama’s prisons became among the nation’s most dangerous, culminating in a years-long battle with federal officials. The series won a highly coveted National Edward R. Murrow Award in the Podcast category for Small Market Radio in 2023.

WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Mary Scott about her plans to go back to school for genetic counseling and also reflected on her time at WBHM.

This interview was edited for clarity.

You’re going back to school to become a genetic counselor. Tell us why you’re doing that.

I’ve always been interested in the field. I’ve known about it for a while and I think genetic counselors serve this unique role in health care where they help folks understand really complicated information about their health, in this case, related to their genetics. And so in that way, I think it mirrors some of the work that I’ve done as a journalist and the role that I’ve served as a journalist where I’m kind of trying to figure out the important information that folks need to know and condensing complicated information.

But as a genetic counselor, I kind of hope to move into a space where I’m working more directly with folks and helping them make decisions to improve their health and that of their families. I’m excited for that. I’m excited to go back to school, learn a lot about genetics. But I am sad to leave journalism full-time and I do hope to kind of keep my toes in the in the pond, so to speak, and continue in some ways to incorporate some of that work as a journalist into my career as a genetic counselor.

When I think about your time at WBHM as a health and science reporter, I think of two main things. I think, one, you’re a reporter in the midst of a global pandemic. And then you also spent several years investigating the prison system in Alabama for the podcast Deliberate Indifference. Take the pandemic first. What sticks with you now, four years after the pandemic started?

It was such a confusing and kind of chaotic time. There were just all these questions. And I think at the beginning, what sticks with me now is just how little we knew back then.

I think the other thing that really sticks with me is just how important our role as journalists was. Throughout that time we had questions that a lot of people had and we were the ones who had the ability to go to the experts and try to get the answers and then filter that information back out — information that could potentially be life saving at that point in time: how to stay healthy, where to find vaccines, when to get vaccines, those kinds of things.

Take the prison podcast. You spent three years doing this. How did you think about the prison system going into it and what do you think about it now?

I guess going into it I didn’t know a lot about the prison system aside from the big issues. I knew it was overcrowded. I knew it was understaffed. I knew it was violent and I knew that there was a big need for mental health care. And that’s actually how I got started looking into the prison system.

I think initially I was really interested in and kind of surprised by the history of the system, how so many of these issues are in no way new. It also draws in on these kind of philosophical questions about the system that we’re, we’re constantly struggling with and we haven’t kind of come to a consensus on. Like what are prisons for? Who are they for? What is a fair punishment? Those kinds of things.

But I think now through my reporting, I’ve kind of come to a place where I also think more about this question of how can we have a smarter system and a system that works. Because I think that’s a question that folks can kind of rally around and we can find more of a consensus there. And there’s a group of people on all kind of sides of the political spectrum who are advocating for that. And I think if we can get behind that, I’m hopeful that maybe that can steer us towards a system that is more humane, that works and that ideally creates safer communities.

What were some of your favorite stories?

Oh, goodness. So many. Lately I’ve really enjoyed reporting more about the outdoors, being able to highlight the immense biodiversity of Alabama, learn about species like gray bats, hemlock trees, Cahaba lilies.

I also really love the stories where I’ve been able to capture these unique events and moments in people’s lives. One story that I think will always stick with me was this story that I did about a local program that reunites Mexican-American families who haven’t seen each other for decades. So these were parents seeing their children for the first time in 10, 20 years. It was so emotional and it was just a beautiful moment to witness and to capture. So I loved working on that story.

In general, I’ve loved my time as a journalist. I feel honored to be the person who gets to go into the space and talk with people in different moments and capture glimpses of life all over the state and from all different backgrounds. I’ve just really appreciated my time. So thank you to the listeners for supporting me for these past several years.

 

As dollar stores continue rural expansion, a Louisiana parish found a new way to push back

Tangipahoa Parish blocked a new Dollar General from opening in a case that could set a precedent for other communities looking to keep discount retailers out.

A family’s search for their native and formerly enslaved heritage in South Alabama

The Tate Family has spent nearly two decades uncovering records that establish their ancestors' time in Alabama before its statehood.

Thousands across Alabama live without access to public water

In rural Marion County, some residents do the only thing they can think to do: call their legislator and cry.

Jon Batiste reflects on the South’s musical history: ‘I’m rooted in something bigger than me’

Before a recent concert in Birmingham, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist took time to learn more about the city’s history and influence on American music.

A court ruled embryos are children. These Christian couples agree yet wrestle with IVF choices

How do you build a family in a way that conforms with your beliefs? Is IVF an ethical option, especially if it creates more embryos than a couple can use? The dilemma reflects the age-old friction between faith and science at the heart of the recent IVF controversy in Alabama, where the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the legal status of children.

Community effort boosts reading scores at BCS

Results from the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program released last month showed 81% of third graders in the district are now reading at or above grade level. This is up from just 53% on the previous year’s standardized test.

More Front Page Coverage