Tag Archives: investigative journalism

Washington Post Editor Marty Baron: Listen Well and Ask More Questions

Diamondback editor Ryan Romano (left) and Capital News Service reporter Roxanne Ready interview Washington Post editor Marty Baron in Stamp Student Union's Hoff Theater.

Diamondback editor Ryan Romano (left) and Capital News Service reporter Roxanne Ready interview Washington Post editor Marty Baron in Stamp Student Union’s Hoff Theater.

COLLEGE PARK (11/2/18) — When the reporting is finished and the story takes shape, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron says there’s another question journalists need to think through.

What hasn’t been asked?

Asking that question has helped Baron lead his newsrooms to 14 Pulitzer Prizes. And it’s the kind of curiosity that he says is critical to practicing good investigative journalism.

“It’s really important for any journalist — no matter what position you hold, whether you’re new to the field or whether you’ve been in the field for a long period of time — to be more impressed with what you don’t know than what you do know,” Baron said Thursday evening during an hour-long conversation with University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism students. “Because there’s a lot more that you don’t know.”

“We are going to fail as an institution if we think we know it all.”

Baron, who was editor of The Boston Globe during its famous investigation of the Catholic Church, spoke following a screening of “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film depicting those events. Co-hosted with The Diamondback, it was the first in an ongoing speaker series organized by The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.

Baron was interviewed by Diamondback editor Ryan Romano and Capital News Service reporter Roxanne Ready. They asked about investigative journalism, some officials’ efforts to discredit the media, violence against journalists and the economic outlook for local and regional news organizations.

Baron returned more than once, though, to a key refrain: journalists must be “constant learners” and “good listeners.”

“My view is ‘let’s go do some reporting and let’s find out what’s really going on here, and when we’ve done that reporting, let’s go do some more reporting and find out what’s happening here,’” he said. “What we as journalists mostly ought to be doing is listening, and listening really well.”

He also said journalists “have to be activists for the truth” and, when it’s being challenged, should speak up in defense of the free press.

Others should speak up, too.

“I do wish there were a larger constituency that spoke out on behalf of a free press and free expression. Everybody benefits from that,” Baron said. “The advertising business is built on free expression, saying whatever they want. The music industry is built on free expression, the movie industry is built on free expression, and corporations went to court in Citizens United to argue that they ought to have what they deemed full rights for freedom of expression.

“So, when the press comes under attack, I think all those sectors of our society should be speaking up against it. And I wish that would happen more often.”

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Nursing Home Operator Investigated by Capital News Service Settles Lawsuit

"Discharging Trouble," a University of Maryland Capital News Service investigation published in 2016, was followed by a lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

“Discharging Trouble,” a University of Maryland Capital News Service investigation published in 2016, was followed by a lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

COLLEGE PARK (10/29/18) — A nursing home operator investigated by the University of Maryland Capital News Service in 2016 will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Discharging Trouble,” published in September 2016 by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism‘s nonprofit news service, told the stories of nursing home patients who were left at the doorstep of unlicensed assisted living homes when their Medicare coverage ran out and they were unable to otherwise pay for care. Two people were assaulted in those unlicensed facilities.

After the series was published, the attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against a company that the attorney general says accounted for 67 percent of Maryland’s involuntary patient discharges between January 2015 and May 2016. The company has been banned from doing business in Maryland.

“Attorneys and advocates for the poor said these were examples of a long-standing problem happening within the nursing care system in Maryland,” a project summary says. “These issues involve a combination of poor health circumstances, payment troubles, financial incentives to discharge patients and an unregulated underworld of group homes and unlicensed assisted-living facilities.”

The sweeping investigation was conducted over the course of five months by students in then-Ph.D. student Rob Wells‘ Business of Journalism class. Alumnae Morgan Eichensehr and Zoe Sagalow were the project’s lead authors.

Eichensehr now covers technology, education and health care at the Baltimore Business Journal. Sagalow is a federal tax and data reporter at Tax Notes. Wells is assistant professor in the University of Arkansas Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism.

Several Merrill College faculty members guided elements of the five-part series and assisted with editing, including CNS Data Editor Sean Mussenden, Eleanor Merrill Distinguished Visiting Fellow Tom BettagRichard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism Mark Feldstein and Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism Sandy Banisky.

Discharging Trouble” was a finalist in the 2016 IRE Awards.

Stories in “Discharging Trouble”

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Knight Chair Dana Priest Reports for PBS’ Facebook Documentary

"The Facebook Dilemma" airs on PBS' "Frontline" documentary program Monday, Oct. 29 and Tuesday, Oct. 30.

“The Facebook Dilemma” airs on PBS’ “Frontline” documentary program Monday, Oct. 29 and Tuesday, Oct. 30.

COLLEGE PARK (10/26/18) — A University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism faculty member was a key contributor to a two-part documentary about Facebook that will air on PBS next week.

Dana Priest, the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at Merrill College, spent six months reporting for “The Facebook Dilemma,” which airs Monday and Tuesday on “Frontline.” PBS published a short trailer this week.

“The promise of Facebook was to create a more open and connected world,” a description on Frontline’s website says. “But from the company’s failure to protect millions of users’ data, to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and disinformation, mounting crises have raised the question: Is Facebook more harmful than helpful?”

The Wall Street Journal published a strong review on Thursday.

“The overarching theme of ‘The Facebook Dilemma’ — an aggressive, indignant, illuminating two-nighter presented by ‘Frontline’ — is the blissfully amoral way a social-media site has morphed into a sociopolitical evil,” the review says.

Priest is an investigative reporter at The Washington Post and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

This semester, she’s teaching two courses on press freedom and disinformation: Press Freedom and Fake News: A Global Battle for Political Power and National Security and Press Freedom Reporting.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Howard Center Boosts Investigative Journalism at Merrill College

COLLEGE PARK (8/8/18) — The investigative reporting curriculum at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism is about to get even stronger.

As one of two universities selected to host the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalismannounced by the Scripps Howard Foundation Monday — the Merrill College will pour the foundation’s $3 million investment into recruiting diverse classes of standout students and training them in ethical research and reporting methods and compelling multimedia storytelling.

In partnership with news organizations and journalism schools across the country, Merrill College intends to use the Howard Center to prepare the next generation of watchdog reporters to hold the powerful accountable.

The nationally and internationally significant investigations published by the center will complement the work of Capital News Service, the college’s student-staffed nonprofit news organization that has won numerous national and regional journalism awards in its 28 years.

“Our gifted faculty members at Merrill College have done a remarkable job over the years providing challenging investigative and enterprise reporting experiences for our students in partnership with many local and national news organizations,” Dean Lucy A. Dalglish said. The Howard Center she added, will foster even more vibrant opportunities — building on the college’s legacy.

This year, a project by students in the CNS Data Lab and Baltimore Urban Affairs Reporting classes won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for “Home Sick,” an investigation published in partnership with Kaiser Health News that showed how substandard living conditions can contribute to illnesses such as asthma.

Students guided by Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism Sandy Banisky interviewed dozens of Baltimore health officials, community leaders and residents as CNS data editor Sean Mussenden‘s students spent more than a year analyzing millions of medical records to identify city neighborhoods where living conditions had the worst effects on residents’ health.

Banisky said Merrill College students have an opportunity many professionals do not — to spend a semester or longer diving deep into a subject. Such reporting produces more compelling and impactful stories.

“Researchers long ago established that asthma is more prevalent in less affluent neighborhoods,” Banisky said. “Our reporters could spend a semester in one neighborhood and establish that the trash in the alley was more than unsightly — it actually was the source of asthma triggers.”

Mussenden said data reporting was key to the project and others through the years.

“Our students’ ability to responsibly analyze complex data sets, and use those findings as a foundation on which to build layered investigations … has set the tone for Capital News Service projects over the last decade,” he said.

The news service became even more focused on deep dives this year, when it launched a formal investigative bureau with funding from the Park Foundation.

Associate Professor of Investigative Journalism Deborah Nelson, working with Chicago-based Injustice Watch, led the bureau this year in reporting on people who were wrongly arrested by members of a corrupt Baltimore Police task force. Some who were charged chose to plead guilty rather than face trial and risk a potentially lengthy prison sentence.

“Given that more than 90 percent of convictions nationwide are from guilty pleas, if even a small fraction of are innocent, it would be a significant miscarriage of justice,” said Nelson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “Because plea deals are negotiated in the hallways and backrooms of local courthouses, it’s important to have reporters on the scene to watch and listen, to witness and report.”

Meanwhile, the CNS field producing team — led by Eleanor Merrill Distinguished Visiting Fellow Tom Bettag — worked with PBS NewsHour correspondent John Yang to show how the opposite choices made by two brothers wrongfully convicted of the same murder in Chicago dramatically changed their lives. The students did all the shooting and all the editing of a piece that aired on the NewsHour.

Merrill College students, Injustice Watch and a network of investigative teams based at universities across the country are continuing work on the project, “Trading Away Justice.”

Also with assistance from the Park Foundation, Dana Priest — the college’s John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism — sent students to five southern states last semester to report on what’s being done and how people feel about Confederate statues in front of county courthouses. Upcoming investigations by Priest’s classes will look at the fate of an imprisoned journalist overseas and how certain U.S. agencies care for veterans.

“Washington, five metro stops away, is our second classroom,” said Priest, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “U.S. agencies are our bread and butter.”

Another recent investigation, “Strength and Shame,” was reported and told by CNS’ visual storytelling team, ViewFinder. The documentary-style story about the deadly abuse of heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids was aired on Maryland Public Television in February.

Lecturer Bethany Swain, who founded ViewFinder at Merrill College, said what started as a semester-long project grew to more than a year once she and her students realized they could tell a story that might not otherwise be told.

“We never imagined when we first started that it would turn into such an in-depth project,” Swain said. “But the stories are so compelling and it’s not unique to our area, which is why it resonated with other audiences.”

Swain’s class, like so many others at Merrill College, had the opportunity to dig deep and produce something special.

Now, the Howard Center — at Maryland and at Arizona State University — will provide students with even more opportunities to tell unique stories.

“At Merrill College, my students and I can take risks, and that’s what investigative journalism is all about,” Priest said. “Lonely digging while everyone else is chasing the same ball.”

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Mark Feldstein Talks About Investigative Reporting on National Press Club Podcast

Eaton Chair Mark Feldstein

Mark Feldstein.

COLLEGE PARK (6/25/18) — Mark Feldstein spoke about investigative journalism, leaks and the role of social media in journalism in a recent interview with The National Press Club’s Update-1 podcast.

Feldstein, Richard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said reporters who receive, verify and publish leaked information are doing a public service and should not be punished.

Exposing corruption and abuses of power, he said, has been a key tenant of journalism for more than 300 years.

“It’s not that we as journalists are somehow a sacrosanct class,” Feldstein said. “It’s that the public needs the information we dig up about malfeasance, about wrongdoing, so that it can be an external check on abuse of authority.”

Feldstein spent 20 years as an award-winning on-air investigative correspondent at CNN, ABC News and various local television stations.

His exposés led to resignations, firings, multi-million dollar fines, and prison terms — and more than 50 journalism awards, including two George Foster Peabody medallions, the Columbia-DuPont baton, the national Edward R. Murrow broadcasting prize and nine regional Emmys.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321