There was some urgency because we knew some of our TV competitors had some vague idea of what the press conference was about. But we had better sources, and we were able to pull a detailed story together quickly. Also, because of the relationship Dave has built with Fort Bliss officials, there was a trust factor that allowed them to agree to an embargo that would still let us be first with the story…
That meant we had to work deep in to the night to have a thorough story ready to post in the morning before the press conference. We also need to give credit to our archivist, Trish Long, who did a bunch of quick research that helped us develop a clear picture of the nuclear presence at Biggs Field during the Cold War.
The movie “Erin Brockovich” ended hopefully, but the years since that legal victory have not been as hopeful for the town of Hinkley, Calif. Reporter Jim Steinberg and photojournalist Rachel Luna of The Sun told of continuing problems in Hinkley in their “Ghost Town” project. You've already seen a Tout from Jim about this project.
Fort Bliss held a press conference with several media there, but none of the TV stations were going live. We were able to use Twitter and Scribble to provide the only live coverage of the press conference. Bob and Dave's reporting gave me more than enough facts to keep the live coverage coming.
The TV stations couldn't live stream because the press conference was on the third floor of a building and they didn't have cable long enough. We live streamed with an iPad.
The way we deliver news is changing, but good solid reporting is still the backbone. I think what we did on the radioactive bunker was a great example of teamwork and planning all around.
Here is a look at the bunker ...
Thanks Aaron! That YouTube video on the Hinkley project didn't load right, so I'll try again.
Bob and Dave did a great job coming up with the breaking news story. During the press conference I was able to reference their story and it gave readers a better understanding of what we were talking about.
great to see Fort Bliss is still making big stories. I covered it for the El Paso Herald Post in the early 1980s.
One DFMie judge said: “Some really good reporting and presentation of information here. The introductory video does a great job of hooking the reader and providing an overview. The issues are thoroughly addressed, and the separate vignettes on residents add additional human component.”
Jim and Rachel, tell us about your project.
The Hinkley story is really two merged into one.
There is the people..their dream of rural living, their sense of community and how all that has been shattered by an environmental nightmare - one that knows no easy solution.
Your project included some detailed graphics. Tell us what that involved.
That leads into the second part....the science.
Not easy. Lots of nuances. To grasp why Pacific Gas & Electric Co. hasn't gone in there and fixed the problem, as Erin Brockovich says they should have done, a person needs to grasp the science.
This package didn't water things down.
Concepts were relayed simply, but we went very deep into the science.
The maps and related graphics were heavy duty as well. The world's largest known chromium-6 problem doesn't have an easy fix.
The Ghost Town headline represents where Hinkley is going. No, it is not a ghost town now, but whole neighborhoods are gone and with the school gone, the reason many chose to live there has also evaporated.
Jim and Rachel, feel free to add more if you want, but I'll move on. The DFMie-winning work in the Marin Independent Journal actually started a year earlier in July 2012, when columnist Dick Spotswood raised questions regarding whether Brett Richards, manager of the Ross Valley Sanitary District, used a $350,000 loan to purchase housing. Subsequent reporting by Richard Halstead revealed inconsistencies in Richards' account of a massive sewage spill, as well as a story on Richards himself and his history of financial problems. The district attorney investigated and charged Richards with nine felony accounts including misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and money laundering.
A judge said: “The Marin Independent Journal entry demonstrates how good day-to day journalism can evolve into an important series of stories that hold public officials accountable for public dollars. It is clear there were questions early on, and Journal staff pursued them until official action was taken. I also liked the interplay of reporting and opinion column in providing different perspectives on the story.”
The Marin Independent Journal is part of the Bay Area News Group for business purposes, but the newsroom operates as part of the Northern California cluster.
Jim Steinberg and I worked on the Hinkley special story for several months. Jim had already been covering Hinkley for a couple years prior, and I jumped on board at the start of this year when I found out that the state of the Hinkley community today resembled nothing like the Hollywood ending I believed when I watched the movie "Erin Brockovich" several years ago. Jim did a tremendous job in his research and details he presented in the Hinkley "Ghost Town" package. I did my best to visually update viewers on the reality of Hinkley today by focusing on the human impact of this story.
Those graphics were perhaps the most challenging aspect of this package.
I had a choice of using someone on the water regulatory board, in Northern California, or someone in Southern California with a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT.
I chose the guy close to home.
He was a journalist in his youth and we thought he would understand what we needed.
But converting his very detailed 3-D graphics into 2-D, ans stripping off some of the details proved to be a nightmare. Particularly with the legends, which didn't match the graphics or didn't make sense -- time after time.
We were making corrections minutes before the final deadline.
Richard and Dick, tell us about the Richards story and how you pursued it and post your Tout about your winning work.
When I wrote my story, it appeared highly likely that Richards’ had misused the housing loan he had received. So using a public records request, I got a copy of the resume Richards submitted when he applied for the job of general manager and fact checked it. My biggest quandary was that his wife spelled her name two ways: Tiffany and Tiffani.
This really is the story that keeps on giving. The latest installment will be in the paper tomorrow: Richards is claiming the sanitary district that he is alleged to have ripped off is obliged to pay for his defense in a related civil suit.
As soon as I realixzed that we had a story regarding Ross Valley Sanitary District executive director Brett Ricahrds' $350,000 "housing:loan, I went to my source in the real estate community. He was able to determined during an actual meeting of the sewage agency;'s board that Richards had no interest in real property in any of California's 58 counties. , I then went to my editorial page editor who alerted Rich Halstred to the story. We working together and I was able to access confidential sources at the district to find out important details. I leaded from an IJ reader that Richards had previously filed twice for personal bankruptcy, something that the sewage district's due dilagance didn't reveal.
Dick, you broke the story in your column, which you write as a regular freelance contributor. Richard, you then advanced the story. Tell us about any collaboration between the two of you in covering this story. Or did you approach it competitively, even though you were both writing for the Marin IJ?
There was no competition between Rick and myself. He generously mentioned in each of his news stories that my column broke the story.
I see my relationship with Mr. Spotwood as being complementary. On this story, he quite generously passed along information that Richards may have filed for bankruptcy in the past and been divorced, so I researched those leads through online court sites. It turned out Richards had filed for bankruptcy twice, and was having his wages garnished for alimony when he sought the housing loan.
All credit for the story really should go to Mr. Spotswood. But I don’t mind him sharing the cash prize. Thanks Richard.
I'll keep moving but encourage the winners we've already introduced to continue their comments if they have more to say. For the second month in a row, the DFMie winner for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia coverage comes from the excellent coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which started in June and continued into July. In declaring the overall coverage by Pennsylvania newsrooms the June winner, we said that individual stories would be eligible to win in July.
Brandie Kessler and Jason Plotkin win for the story of Barbara Myers, a transgender re-enactor who always wanted to dress up in girls’ clothes when he was a little boy and now enjoys Civil War-era dresses as a woman.
A judge said, “An excellent feature story with a sentimental video complete with background music!”
Brandie and Jason, please tell us about your story and post your Tout about your winning work.
This actually started as a joke. I met a woman who sold Civil War era dresses and I asked her if any men came in to buy dresses for themselves. She told me that during the Civil War, there were men who dressed up like a woman to avoid being in the war. I thought that could be a cool story, so I began leaving my business card at all of the Civil War dress shops. That’s when one woman told me about a transgender re-enactor. I was hesitant because, in my experiences with transgenders in York, they are extremely guarded about being open about their experiences . But from the get go, I could tell Barbara was an open book. So at that point, I requested to do the story and get a reporter on board. So when you want to do a kick ass story, you bring in Brandie Kessler.
Beyond the initial surprise of finding a transgender re-enactor, were there surprises you encountered in interviewing her and telling her story?
By the time I was brought into things, Jason had already done the groundwork. As I mentioned in the Tout Jason posted, having the trust of your subject is crucial when the story is of a sensitive nature. Jason did a great job of making Barbara feel comfortable from the beginning.
I think we were both surprised about the access that she gave us.
A judge said: “What a great — and fresh — angle to take on an event so intertwined with the American experience. The story and photos take readers instantly to the ballpark to meet its many helping hands and behind-the-scenes players you meet in the video. Each part of the story package is complementary to the others, coving all the same highlights without being repetitive — or stealing the thunder of another piece of the coverage.”