Consumer DNA databases, like FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch, have opened up new avenues for law enforcement investigators to identify people suspected of committing serious crimes. But the new technique raises privacy concerns.
Democratic societies rely on reporters to hold government officials accountable and make sure ‘the system’ is working as it should. As traditional newspapers shrink, many say it’s at the expense of this essential investigative function. Some even speculate that Watergate would not be uncovered by a 21st century newspaper. We explore the state of investigative reporting at small and large news organizations, and meet the young reporter who broke the Penn State child abuse scandal.
- David Fallis Investigative Reporter, Washington Post
- Sara Ganim Reporter, Patriot-News
The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Bill Buzenberg of the Center for Public Policy talk about the future of investigative journalism and how it has changed over the past several decades:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. There is an unprecedented amount of information available today from news website, to blogs, to Twitter, to cable television. Yet, as traditional newsrooms shrink, many say that one of the most important functions of a newspaper is under threat, holding those in power accountable.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIInvestigative journalism takes time and resources, months or even years to dig deep and follow a story. Most news organizations, big and small, just don't have the resources anymore. Local newspapers have been hit especially hard and many wonder what's slipping by as reporters are laid off and budgets are cut. Yet stories of mismanagement and wrongdoing are still breaking and new models may be emerging. Joining us in studio to discuss this is Sara Ganim. She is a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot News. Sara Ganim, thank you for joining us.
MS. SARA GANIMThank you. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is David Fallis. He is a staff writer on The Washington Post investigations unit. He also teaches journalism at the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs. David Fallis, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID FALLISThank you.
NNAMDII should mention that Sara Ganim will be speaking tonight, 7:00 p.m., as a guest of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. It's in the Richard Eaton Auditorium, first floor of Knight Hall at the University of Maryland College Park. Magic word, it's free. If you'd like to join this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Sara, you're a young journalist working for what most people would consider a small newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot News in Pennsylvania, yet you broke one of the biggest stories of the year 2011, the scandal involving Penn State's former assistant, Coach Jerry Sandusky. How did you do it?
GANIMWell, the short answer is that I have great bosses and the long one is many, many long nights and a lot of knocking on doors and really shoe-leather journalism. I mean, that's the bottom line. I was working on this story for several years. And I know people like to talk about that, the length of time that it took and it's true, it did take me several years from the time that I got the first tip until we broke the story. But it really was less about, you know, the length of time.
GANIMIt wasn't like I was working on this every day. It was more about finding an organization that would give me the time and the resources to really put the effort in and taking the risk, not in running the story, but the risk in giving me two or three weeks to nothing else when I may have very well come back with nothing, which wasn't, you know, always -- it's not ever a fun conversation to have with your boss.
NNAMDIBut it happens.
GANIMBut it does happen. And I had no idea if when I asked for two or three weeks on the road, if I was going to come back with anything. You can never make that guarantee and that's what your bosses sometimes want. So that's the bottom line. The answer is, I had bosses who trusted me and gave me the resources to work on it.
GANIMAnd, you know, now that we look back on that, I can tell you a story. My boss printed out an article, it was actually from The New Yorker or, I'm sorry, New York Times magazine on how each of their cover stories cost about $40,000 and he put it on my desk as a little reminder. And he said, how much do you think this cost us? And I wrote back and said something snarky like, well, a lot less than I would if I had told you the truth on my timecard. So...
NNAMDIA point well taken. We're a small newspaper and this is costing us a lot of money. Fortunately, she came up with the story. David, in your case, your most recent investigative series for The Washington Post focuses on following the money trail of every single member of Congress, an enormous undertaking and we'll get to that. But first, what did you and your colleagues actually find?
FALLISIn this particular case, we essentially started out just by scrubbing the financial disclosure forms of all 535 people and then comparing that to what they've done in office. And in this particular installment of the series, we looked at earmarks and we looked for a juxtaposition of their financial interests and their personal holdings and earmarks that they had secured while in office.
FALLISWe found an alignment, if you will, between property that they owned and earmarks they had secured, for example, a road paved in front of a member's house. And also earmarks to universities and head of organizations that employed their spouses. There were about 48 people in the final sample that we wrote about.
NNAMDICombing through the financial records of 535 people. We'll talk a little bit about how much time that took and whether or not David felt he would come up with anything at the end of it all. In the meantime, we're taking your calls. Do you think the media are doing a good job holding government and public officials accountable? 800-433-8850. Or do you think in-depth investigative journalism should be supported and if so, exactly how do you propose? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISara, what's somewhat surprising is that you reported on the grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky fully six months before the story really broke. Some asked, after the scandal finally broke, why it took so long to reach the media. Do you have a sense as to why?
GANIMI mean, I don't have an answer obviously, but I can tell you what I heard from some other reporters and what I believe might have happened with the national media. You know, in Pennsylvania, I heard a lot of people say, you know, we're not going with it until it's charged. We believe that you shouldn't go with something like this and possibly ruin a man's reputation, if he's not charged. You know, we never reported that he was guilty.
GANIMWe reported that he was under investigation and we were very, very, very careful to stick with facts only. There were a lot of rumors swirling around with the story. We weren't talking about them. We were talking about the facts as we knew them and they were the facts of the investigation. But what I really think happened with the national media was our story was very well sourced and we knew that our sources were good, but they weren't named sources.
GANIMAlmost all of them were off the record or on background. So even though we were able to say we've talked to five people with an independent knowledge of this investigation, we're not telling who those five people are. And I think that there was, to a degree, some probably, rightfully-so, hesitation. Are we just going to report it because this Patriot News says they have five people?
GANIMSo, you know, when you reprint things like that, you know, the kind of legal difficulties you could find yourself in, if it's wrong. And I think that might have played a role, but I really don't know. All I know is that I did hear from some other reporters, you know, boss says, no, way we're not going with them. We're not touching that until he's charged. And then, you know, of course, everybody afterward said, hey, where was everybody?
NNAMDISo there was pushback on merely reporting that the investigation was taking place?
GANIMThat's right. Yes, a lot of it.
NNAMDIWas that pushback in part because of the legend lurking in the background, JoePa or was the fact that in that part of the country, Jerry Sandusky himself is a legendary figure?
GANIMHe is. I think that if you -- I think you're right. Jerry Sandusky is a legendary figure. I think if you were not so much in the 2000s, but back in the 1990s and '80s, definitely, and probably even in the '70s. I mean, there was a celebrity list in state college. Joe Paterno was number one, for sure. Jerry Sandusky was number two and he did a lot for football. But the thing about Jerry Sandusky was he was very public in the community, too, with his charitable organizations.
GANIMHe was like this, you know, this great football coach who's always a really, really, really great guy and very personable and a lot of people felt like they knew even when, you know, they didn't really know him. You know, they didn't hang out, for example, at his house or anything, but they saw him at charity events. They gave to his charity, they would chat with him at these second mile golf tournaments.
GANIMSo absolutely. I think that a lot of people who I talked to were saying, yes, I've heard the rumors. I've read them online, but they're not true. I don't believe them. Even after the story was reported that there was, you know, possibly two investigations maybe more, two children, alleged victims come forward, maybe more, you know, that can't be true, this is Jerry Sandusky.
GANIMAnd then, you know, to a degree, I even got people who talked to me about it prefaced on, go prove that this isn't true. You know, I'll talk to you. I'll tell you what I know because I want you to prove that this isn't, you know, he's been falsely accused. So it was very interesting.
FALLISI just want to jump in real quickly.
NNAMDIPlease do, David.
FALLISI think that this is a mark of the kind of journalism that we should be doing. I mean, you know, it's the willingness to question conventional wisdom and I think, particularly in this case, it's hard to question conventional wisdom with a guy who has a shadow like that.
NNAMDIEspecially when you happen to be an alum of the university yourself and therefore people are putting pressure on you to be loyal and not to reveal any of the stuff that you're getting. Which brings me to this -- and by the way, in case you're just joining us, we're talking about the future of investigative journalism with Sara Ganim. She is a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot News who broke the Jerry Sandusky story and David Fallis who is a staff writer on The Washington Post investigations unit. He also teaches journalism at the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. With blogs, cable TV and all the other new media, do you think investigative journalism is flourishing or suffering? 800-433-8850. David, another issue, particularly when you are uncovering wrongdoing, as Sara was pointing out, despite the fact that we got sources, we'd better have it right. The other issue is liable. Are there cases where even the three source rule to support a story isn't enough for a paper to be willing to go forward?
FALLISI think increasingly. If you're talking about a public official, you certainly have more room to run. For example, a member of Congress is about as public as you can get. But when you're talking about private individuals, you definitely have a much higher threshold and much a higher bar because you do not want to recklessly defame somebody and expose your organization to some sort of legal action. It's a consideration always at The Post.
FALLISWhen we start to investigate things and look into things, we want those things sewn up. We, you know, typically on the investigative unit, we want to document. We want some sort of piece of paper. The problem with human sources is they change their stories. They waffle back and forth. As you get closer to publication, people get cold feet. So, you want at least two, if not three, maybe four, maybe even five. I mean, with something as potentially as explosive as what she had, the more the better, absolutely.
NNAMDIIn your case, Sara, was there ever a point that you thought of pulling back?
GANIMWell, I can tell you that we spent a lot of time leading up to the -- actually running in -- I had to have actually only been at the Patriot-News for about six weeks. And I got to know my bosses very, very, very well. Spent entire days in their office on speaker phone with the lawyers talking about every word was meticulously placed because we wanted to make sure that we were sticking to only facts and not making an assumption, not going too far with that word or not going far enough with this word.
NNAMDIA lot of legal fees for your paper.
GANIMA lot. Well, it factors into that 40,000 number, right?
GANIMBut I never felt, you know, you always kind of get that feeling that reporters get. You know, oh, my gosh, did I imagine that? Did I dream that, you know?
GANIMBut never at a point, you know, the night before was a little bit, wow, you know, this is going to happen. But at four o'clock that day, I'll tell you this, the four o'clock, the day it ran, I was actually teaching a class at Penn State last semester. I was teaching intro to journalism and I was driving the 90 miles from my paper to Penn State to teach this class. And I'm driving up there, 90 miles, wondering if, like, the bars on my door are going to be locked, if they're going to let me in.
GANIMAnd so I taught my class. And when I left the class, it was about four o'clock. Jerry Sandusky had issued a statement that said, basically, you know, I'm innocent, but the facts as they are alleged are correct. You know, these things have been alleged against me, but I'm innocent. And he basically said our entire story was true. That, yes, he was under investigation.
NNAMDIThat wooshing sound you heard was the sigh of relief coming from Sara Ganim.
GANIMExactly. Not that I really had any doubt, but you just, you know, that confirmation is, yeah.
NNAMDIVery important. David, many people just see the resulting story and don't realize what goes into this kind of reporting. What does it take to put together a series like the congressional earmark story that you've been working on?
FALLISYou know, the number one asset that a reporter can have other than their own skill set and their own sort of intuitive capabilities is time. And, you know, that's the tug right now. There's no shortage of appetite for investigative journalism. And when this story hit last week, we got phone calls and tons of emails saying, this is what you guys should be doing. The problem is that these things take time.
FALLISThere were three of us working on that essentially it's for a year. We're not done. We have other stories to come. But that was three full-time reporters out of the paper for the better part of the year. That is not a luxury.
NNAMDIHow many investigative reporters did the paper have?
FALLISThe newspaper right now has a lot of investigative reporters spread across the staff broadly. We have an investigative unit that has seven full-time reporters. Two of us on this project were from that unit. Another one was accountability reporter on loan from National. And we have a single dedicated editor. You know, given the demands in the industry, there's probably nowhere else I'd want to be except the Washington Post, because at least we're still doing it.
FALLISYou know, newspapers nationally have eviscerated their staffs. And the first thing to go are projects like this because it takes time. And it's hard to justify having somebody work on something three weeks, let alone three months, six months, nine months.
NNAMDIAnd in this case, a year.
FALLISIn this case, a year. You don't start these projects, you don't set out and say, boy, let's take two years to look at something, right? You're always looking for the quickest way to do it. But with investigative journalism, what I found over my career is these things emerge when they're ready to emerge. I mean, part of this reporting is you're reaching a conclusion. You're becoming a voice of authority based upon deduction and based upon interviews and sourcing and whatnot.
FALLISYou can't get to that point through shortcuts. You have to do the interviews. You have to do the document work. You have to engage. And, you know, every time we start out one of these projects, we look for ways to make it quicker. But the reality is that if you take shortcuts, you run the risk of being reckless and irresponsible and getting things wrong. And you really have to -- it's not like a cake where you put it in the oven for 450 degrees for 30 minutes. This thing has top cook and you don't know when it's done until it's done. It will emerge.
NNAMDIWell, for those who think in terms of...
FALLISTo be cryptic about it.
NNAMDIFor those who think in terms of the glory of getting the byline, it takes a lot to get there in the case of the series. It took an enormous amount of research, which one can expect. But in this case, it seems to me the research must have been particularly tedious, remains me of the first job I had out of high school, which was an audit clerk in that you spend all day with somebody reading back numbers to you and you're simply checking to see if those -- a lot of what you have to do on this...
NNAMDI...going over the financial records of 535 members of Congress?
FALLISYeah. And we divided it three ways. But all three of us...
NNAMDIYour eyes start to glaze over after a while?
FALLISYeah, I know. All of us wanted to jump out of windows at different times. But to do it right, there's, you know, if you're going to do it all, you've got to do it all. And there's no shortcut.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Rhuda (sp?) in Fairfax, VA. Rhuda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RHUDAYes. Hi, Kojo. Actually, I join my voice, like, to wonder the same thing, like, about why this kind of candles or these kinds of actions doesn't change the public in the right time? And actually, I was writing a paper about that. I'm working on my Master's degree and I thought of something that, like, share in all these cases, which is I called it the triangle of silence. And one part of this triangle is money and power that all the people who commit such a crime share, what they think that they are untouchable and where they know that people would be very scared to accuse them of such accusation.
RHUDAThe other part, it's the mindset of the people that they think that the same thing. They think that this is not right, it's very difficult to convince them that those legendary people are committing such kinds of crime. The same thing happened in the case of the Catholic Church. People couldn't think that people that have the word of God...
NNAMDIOkay, that's two angles of the triangle. What's the third?
RHUDAAnd the third part is the helplessness of the victim. Often we see those victims -- it's very hard for their voices to reach, like, the media or to reach the public opinion. They're helpless or (unintelligible) the victim. So, that's why...
RHUDA...it's very hard to bring their voice out.
NNAMDIWell, you raised two issues that I'd like Sara to talk in terms of the voice of the victim. And I'd like to suggest that what you're talking about, it might be a quadrangle because, David Fallis, in terms of the earmarks, a lot of those members of Congress and the people who support them didn't think they were doing anything wrong. But first, you, Sara, and that voicelessness of the victims.
GANIMIt's very interesting, you know, in this case, but also in many sex abuse cases, the victims feel that if they come forward, they will become the villain. And in some cases, they feel like they won't be believed. In this case in particular, some of the victims had good reason because a lot of that -- I shouldn't say a lot -- but at least one, possibly two and more had come forward and had told someone in authority and weren't believed. So why should they come forward again?
GANIMAnd I think that, you know, in a lot of cases, when the charges are filed or when you get that conviction, there's that sense of relief, but that takes a lot of times years. And over that period that you're waiting, you're going through so much that at the end of it that relief is -- bittersweet is not the right word. But, you know, sex abuse victims, all kinds of victims tell me all the time, you know, the justice system, they don't feel that it should be -- it's not justice.
NNAMDIHow persistent and persuasive do you have to be with victims who feel that they're powerless, who feel that they really have nothing to gain here and everything, what little they have left to lose?
GANIMYou know, it's not so much about persistence as much as talking, just really listening to them and not banging on their door and saying, you know, sticking a microphone in their face and saying...
NNAMDIWell, in your case, the police told them not to talk to the media, right?
GANIMI know. And some of them listened, and some them said, you know, why not? Why do we have to hide if, you know, why don't you want us to talk? And I think that there's a lot of angles to that. I think that there's probably a lot of motives in telling people why to talk or why not to talk, I don't think. You know, in some cases, I think they wanted to protect the integrity of an investigation. In a lot of cases, it might have been a blanket of distrust or a little bit of internal politics, who knows.
GANIMBut, you know, it really takes -- and sometimes it's just you're the first person that's actually listening to them without some kind of an agenda, you know? That's oftentimes the case. It's a sensitivity thing. And it's like a fine balance because you are still a reporter. But I've never felt that writing a story has done harm to a victim of a crime. I've always tried to make sure that it does some good, because, you know, you don't want to. I've been a crime reporter, you know, I've never really covered anything a little bit of, you know, small town parades and stuff.
GANIMBut I mostly stayed on the crime beat. And you're always covering people on the worst day on their lives.
GANIMSo, you have to do, you know, if you're going to approach this mother who just lost her son or this family whose house just burned down, you know, the thing that gets you over, that gut feeling in your stomach that says don't talk to these -- don't bother these people is, is my story going to do some good for them?
NNAMDIRhuda, thank you very much for your call. And in your case, David, you have to deal with all the people, including some members of Congress themselves who said, look, one of the reasons I get elected is to, quote, unquote, "bring home the bacon."
NNAMDIThis is what I'm supposed to do for my constituency if it just happens to involve a relative of mine, well, look, he's working for a nonprofit that's doing good for this community.
FALLISAbsolutely. We heard that over and over and over. I mean, the two big points of this entire project, I think, were to shine a light into an area which is undisclosed, if not hidden by design. There's nothing that says that when you get an earmark that you have to also disclose that you own land where the earmark is going. Or if you're getting an earmark for a university that your significant other is a chancellor at the university.
FALLISThere's no mechanism for that, which is why it took so much time. The other piece of that is, whether you fundamentally think that's okay or not, it is permitted and it is legal under the laws that Congress has set for themselves. And we tried to basically force those two issues, the lack of transparency, plus the fact that this is legal and ethical, to get it out there so that people can have a debate about whether, A, it should be disclosed and, B, whether there should be some sort of rules governing it.
FALLISLike, perhaps maybe you can't earmark for the street that is actually in front of your house, even if it is benefiting more broadly. The way the laws are set up in Congress, you literally would have to be getting an earmark to build a swimming in your backyard that you didn't let anybody else use for it to be classified as a conflict of interest. And as long as you're not the sole beneficiary, it's fine. And so we really tried to hammer that point, whether the people decide whether this is good or bad the way the rules are structured. The point is it's going on and that it is permitted.
NNAMDIAnd the first thing I discovered from reading your stories was how much members of Congress do not have to disclose about their financial affair.
NNAMDIThat you would have thought they had to disclose.
FALLISNo. It's very hard to get an accurate picture, because right off the bat they do not have to disclose their primary residence, whether it's a, you know, a $20-million mansion from the, you know, Coca-Cola heiress or whether it's a shack on the beach somewhere. As long as it's your primary residence or it's a home that is not actively earning you income, you don't have to disclose it. Part of our problem in doing this project was penetrating the sort of the layers of property.
FALLISBecause you can also effectively set up a corporation and hold land in that corporation and then just disclose the name of the corporation with the LLC without actually listing the addresses. So from a watchdog perspective and from a sort of a person who thrives on looking at documents, there's a lot of things that the disclosure process that, you know, are left to be improved, I think.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get back to this conversation on the future of investigative journalism. Do you have any questions for Sara Ganim or David Fallis? Call us at 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the future of investigative journalism. We're talking with David Fallis. He's a staff writer on the Washington Post Investigations Unit. He also teaches journalism at the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs. Sara Ganim is a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot News. She'll be speaking tonight 7:00 P.M. as a guest of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. It's in the Richard Eaton Auditorium, First Floor of Knight Hall at the University of Maryland College Park in the Phillip Merrill School of Journalism.
NNAMDIDavid, your paper, the Washington Post, is of course the paper that uncovered the Watergate scandal. Is the Post now rare in terms of how much it still devotes to investigative journalism compared to other places? What's happening in most news rooms?
FALLISWell, I think -- I'm of two minds on this. I think that -- I don't think, I know nationally that there's been massive cutbacks in terms of the bodies and resources thrown at long-term journalism and, you know, put investigative reporting into that pot. Things were pretty dire. You know, when I started at the Post in '99, we had, I don't know, 11, 1200 editorial side people producing content. We're down to 600 something, and they just announced another round of voluntary buyouts last week coming on the heels of this series.
FALLISSo I' not naive, and I'm concerned. On the other hand, the -- you know, the other thought that I entertain is there's a huge demand for this kind of reporting, and when we do it, it resonates with people. I get flooded with emails and phone calls saying thank you, you know, do more of this. The problem is, as I mentioned earlier, it takes time, and time is the number one sort of resource that you throw in to this.
FALLISI think, however, if we can figure out how to sort of get from where we are today to say three years, four years, five years into the future where we're able to recapture things that were lost in the economic collapse and with the advent of the web, which I think is a great thing, it will -- I think that we'll see, you know, everybody will ramp back up because -- and I tell my students this over at GW, I'm very excited for their future because while I can't point to the traditional track and sort of say now, do this and do this and then you're gonna end up with a job at, you know, at Operation X, on the other hand, the doors that they have open for them with the advent of the digital, are enormous.
FALLISI mean, it's changed the way I do my job. We tell stories in different ways now. We worked -- on the last two projects we did guns a year ago, and then we did Congress this year, and on both those projects I worked very closely with a web documentary guy and we produced documentaries to go along with the story telling. We have interactive maps. We have the ability to tweet our stories. We have the ability to interact with readers. We have an entire dimension of reporting that didn't exist 12 years ago, 10 years ago, and so that is exciting, and I don't think that the appetite for investigative journalism is going anywhere.
FALLISIt's just a question of can the organizations like the ones I work for, the traditional sort of brick and mortar ones, make that jump from sort of the past to the future, and I think that if we can do that, and figure out a way to capitalize and monetize what we've lost in the economic downturn and with the advent of the web, we'll be okay. It's sort of like can we retain brand identity until we get to that point. So I'm of two minds on the topic.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you think in depth investigative journalism should be supported, and if so, how? 800-433-8850. Sara, a report by the Federal Communications Commission last summer on the state of local investigative reporting mainly at daily newspapers, they said they see a crisis. Do local papers like yours have the resources to really continue to hold local government and officials accountable? Were you surprised by the support you got on this story? Is it the kind of support you can expect on an ongoing basis?
GANIMWell, I don't know about ongoing, and I do think that to some degree it's all about the people at the organization, what they're willing to spend their money on, and not just the editors giving the okay, but also the reporters. You know, you hear all the time kind of that it's like disgruntled within a newsroom, this disgruntled feeling of, you know, my job isn't what it was ten years ago. My bosses don't care about me, my company doesn't care about me, my healthcare costs are going up, my salary is going down, I no longer have my Christmas bonus.
GANIMYou know, things that actually employees of organizations all across the board are feeling in tough economic times, and because of that, you know, they clock out at five o'clock, and journalism is not a 9:00 to 5:00.
GANIMAnd so you have to have the motivation and the willingness to actually pursue the story and maybe work a couple extra hours without clocking it.
GANIMWithout going on, you know, and that might seem a little bit crazy to some people, but that's really part of it. It's a two-way street. Your boss gives you that freedom, and then you have to take it and do something with it, and want to do something with it, and not say, you know, well, you know, I'm gonna go home now because I'm not getting paid for this.
NNAMDIWell, I heard Davis talking about how he interacted with web producers and the like. I was struck by your website, Sara, you say that you report on multiple platforms, and indeed, there are pictures of you wielding a pretty serious video camera and a steady stream of tweets. How do you do it all?
GANIMI mean, it takes practice. The first time you do it, I tell some other reporters when they start to get the flip cams or they get camera -- phones on their cameras, the first time you do it, it's gonna take a long time, and you're gonna be really frustrated, and you're gonna hate it. But the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you become faster and more efficient, and to be honest with you, I think that, you know, I didn't really start when I was in college. I was a reporter, but I wrote my notes on a notepad and I went back and typed them.
GANIMYou know, I don't do any of that much anymore. I take notes with my phone. I take notes with Twitter and if you would have told me that five years ago, I would have said you're crazy, I would never, you know, that seems really complicated and like so much work to go back and have to look at Twitter, but actually it helps you. One thing about the Web that really helps me, is if I'm constantly updating all day, and I'm covering an event that's like 12 hours long, like let's say a trial, what happened in the morning is gonna feel like ten years ago to me. But if I've been updating the Web all day long, I've got it all in writing, you know.
FALLISYou have a timeline.
GANIMI have a timeline and it's mine. It's my, you know, it's complete sentences, and all I have to really do is top it off, put it all together and I'm in a much better place than I can remember covering my very first trial for the college paper where I came back with a notepad that was like, you know, as thick as, you know, a dime basically standing up of notes from the entire day, and I had to go back through an entire day and relive it and try to put that together into a story. That's not...
NNAMDIWell, David, this brings me to -- because for a lot of journalists as she points out, it points back to the fact that newspaper have fewer resources, but apparently there are some advantages to working on a story using different media.
FALLISOh, absolutely. I think it gives us a depth that we didn't have. It allows us to tell that story in a much sort of richer framework, right? Instead of just having to sort of like put all the pressure on a sentence, a single sentence on a flat two-dimensional page, now suddenly you have the ability to have a documentary component to it and present that on the Web, you can bring people to life.
FALLISYou know, in this recent project, the Web documentary guy went with me to Tuscaloosa, and part of the story was about a senator who had improved the downtown area through earmarks that was literally adjacent to his office building. And while I was down there reporting and doing interviews, the Web guy came along with me and captured the interviews as you would for a documentary, and he ended up putting together a documentary.
FALLISThen when he got back to the newspaper they did an interactive map which, as the documentary played, it highlighted a three-dimensional map showing the different blocks and the different buildings. That was inconceivable 10, 12 years ago. So I see all these changes as good, because it just makes it that much more deeper. It allows you to reach traditional, quote/unquote, "readers" in ways that you couldn't have imagined five to six years ago. Is it more work? Yes. But I think that the payoff is absolutely worth it.
NNAMDIHere is Kyle in Baltimore, Md. Kyle, your turn.
KYLEThank you. I have two questions actually. The first being directed towards Sara on a comment that she just barely made a few minutes ago concerning an investigatory journalist listening to a victim and not having any particular agenda, which seems contradictory to me in that, I mean, your agenda is to get a story and to put your name on that story to sell somebody's life story. So you do have an agenda, and that can be sometimes contradictory to helping a victim.
KYLEAnd the second question I had would be directed to both David and Sara, in that you both work for printed media, and I'm wondering, have you ever felt or do you feel in this country any particular type of pressure from the editor or from anybody further up in the chain to either go after certain stories that agree with a particular political or particular...
NNAMDIIs there really a firewall between the editorial pages and the news pages is what you...
KYLEOh, I appreciate the difference between op-ed and the actual investigative journalist, but it's still, as I read, my perception is is that a journalist is still writing -- if he's writing for the New York Times, he is going to have a very left leaning perspective on a story, and...
NNAMDIOkay. Well, we're running out of time, so allow me to have both answers. First, I'll start with Sara. You didn't exactly define what your agenda is.
GANIMOkay. I, you know, I apologize for that. I'll admit my agenda is the truth, and I do not think that that would -- in a situation where you are up front with a victim, or any person you are talking to, I think that they know a reporter's agenda is the truth and a lot of times that's a benefit more times than not. I happen to think the truth is always a benefit, and so, yes, that's my agenda.
FALLISAnd I can say at the Post, since I've been there since '99, I have yet to have been steered toward one side or the other, or going after, you know, our agenda, if we have one on the investigative staff, is basically to unearth something that's either hidden by design or on purpose. You know, for the Congress project, that's why we looked at all 535 people. We just didn't pick the Democrats, we just didn't pick the Republicans, we looked at everybody, and in the end, it ended up being fairly representative of the makeup of Congress, and so, you know, we sort of go after people equal opportunity. We don't -- honestly, I've never had a memo saying that we need to look at this or that because it fits our political...
NNAMDIRichard in Fairfax, Va. You're on the air, Richard. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDThank you, Kojo. First of all, I love your show, first time call, and I have great respect and I treasure the Washington Post, and I love the idea of investigative journalism.
RICHARDBut I think you've missed the point on this particular story. I read with great interest the first one about where the Congress people live versus where the projects were, and, you know, really, about all you proved is most of the Congress people live in their districts, and I think that misses the point. I think there's a real issue about earmarks, but I don't think conflict of interest seems to be the case, and I'd be happy to take my comments -- your comments on that off the air.
NNAMDIAnd it'll have to be the last comment, because we're running out of time. David?
FALLISWell, I appreciate your perspective, and I thank you immensely for reading the work we did. I mean, our point was to basically, like I said earlier, to show that this is hidden, and that it's not unethical, at least not into the way they define the rules. I mean, our point was to show that the interest of the Congressmen personally can align with his interests of his district and I'll let others decide whether they're comfortable with that or not. You know, all I can say is that in some cases the range of benefit was very broad, and in other cases, it, you know, it benefitted the people that lived on the cul-de-sac with the Congressman. So I'll let others decide whether they think that that's okay.
NNAMDIAnd a few cases relatives of the members of Congress.
FALLISYes. And of course the second day of stories focused on earmarks going to organizations tied to their relatives. It was the same idea.
NNAMDIDavid Fallis is a staff writer on the Washington Post Investigations Unit. He also teaches journalism at the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs. David, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISara Ganim is a reporter at the Harrisburg Patriot News. Sara, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIYou can catch Sara tonight 7:00 P.M. Richard Eaton Auditorium in the Phillip Merrill School of Journalism, College Park, Maryland, University of Maryland. It's the first floor of Knight Hall. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we will continue with our membership campaign. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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