Spotlight Archives

El Paso Times sees impact from investigation of school cheating

Headline: Education commissioner removes EPISD school board
Outlet: El Paso Times
Journalist: Zahira Torres and Hayley Kappes
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One of the most important measures of investigative journalism is impact. Well, how’s this for impact? Reporting by Zahira Torres and Hayley Kappes of the El Paso Times on cheating in the El Paso School District led to the state education commissioner ordering the removal of the school board.

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Blog network contributes to successful literacy fundraiser

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Headline: Help Us Raise Money for Literacy
Outlet: The Pottstown Mercury
Journalist: Diane Hoffman

Sometimes ‘community engagement’ is more meaningful than just getting traction on social media. In ways that many papers don’t, the Pottstown Mercury understands this organizationally, as they’ve just wound down their third community-oriented project of the year with the Town Square bloggers.* This most recent fundraiser resulted from a visit by Pottstown YWCA staff to one of the paper’s regular community bloggers meetings. The YWCA was in need of additional funding for its literacy education program, the staff members had told the bloggers, and from that an idea for a literacy-themed challenge was borne.

For every person who took a Literacy Pledge and signed up for a YWCA email list using a form on Google Docs, an anonymous donor would give $1 to the YWCA. The Mercury’s Town Square bloggers even wrote up posts to promote the fundraiser. As community engagement editor Diane Hoffman noted to us, the pledge form included an option that let readers identify which blog had prompted them to take the pledge — by tracking referrals, Hoffman and others at the paper could see which blogs generated the most emails and, consequently, donations. In total, the Read and Write for Literacy Campaign raised $1,057 for the YWCA.

* Wondering what the first two community projects of the year were? A food drive over Lent and a community clean-up initiative this summer.

A community-grown weekly food page

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Headline: Emma Curie: Grains Don’t Need to Be Plain
Outlet: The Morning Sun
Journalist: Holly Mahaffe

With a job title that probably didn’t even exist five years ago — Community Engagement Producer — you might be unsure of what folks like Holly Mahaffey do on a day-to-day basis. However, this example, sent in by her colleague Lisa Jonaitis, should help you understand how Digital First Media’s focus on community engagement can directly impact a publication’s journalistic bottom-line.

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Following reporter’s inquiry, a murder confession

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Headline: GUILTY: Lomita chef David Viens looking at 15 years to life for murder
Outlet: Daily Breeze
Journalist: Larry Altman
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Larry Altman’s coverage of this story, which spanned a three-year period, began when an elderly resident of Lomita (a town in the Los Angeles area) called the Daily Breeze to report that she didn’t know where her neighbor was — that she was missing, and her husband, a local chef, wouldn’t talk about it.

Altman kept on the story, facing much resistance from the principal man involved, and saw the case turn into a homicide investigation following an interview he held at the suspect’s restaurant. Ultimately, not only was the chef found guilty of the crime, but Altman was first to report that he had also cooked his wife’s remains to dispose of the evidence.

Explanatory, multimedia package on desalination facility

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Headline: Deconstructing Desal in Santa Cruz
Outlet: Santa Cruz Sentinel
Journalist: J. M. Brown
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During a six-month investigation of a proposed $123 million seawater desalination facility in Santa Cruz, Sentinel staff writer J.M. Brown interviewed more than 60 water officials, scientists, utility customers and others to provide a deep look inside the financial, environmental and political implications of the city’s plan.

The amount of time Brown spent learning about the issue was readily evident throughout the package; it was clear the journalism was produced from a position of knowledge and authority. Complimented by a four-part video series and a live chat, Brown’s coverage was accessible to readers with varying amounts of background knowledge, as he also produced an easy-to-read ‘What we found’ breakout feature to accompany the package.

Public salary database exposes ‘double-dipping’

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Headline: 'Double-dippers' rake in public money
Outlet: San Jose Mercury
Journalist: Tom Peele
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Investigative reporter Tom Peele spent more than two years building a database of public employee salaries and benefits. Last month provided Tom a chance to show the San Jose Mercury’s web and print audience just what that database can do.

In a time of dwindling newsrooms, the significant energy and resources put into this project helped expose a practice of ‘double-dipping’ among public employees who drew pensions from one municipality while receiving salaries from another.