I documented Dorothy's life alone for over a year. When I was done telling her story Mike Anastasi brought in Dana Bartholomew to write an essay and Hans Gutknecht to lead the video project. Together we produced a package that ran both digitally and in print and was well received by the community.
I think you discuss this some in the video, but how did you find Dorothy and get her to trust you to provide such an intimate look at her life?
Again, Sarah, please finish any answers you want to add, but we'll start with the next winners. Reporter Teresa Boeckel and photojournalist Jason Plotkin of the York Daily Record win their DFMie for a new story about an old story. In 2001, a man with a machete attacked students and staff in a York County elementary school. None of the young children had talked publicly about the attack at the time or since. Sarah Amspacher, then in kindergarten, is now a senior in high school, and wanted to share how she had overcome the trauma of that day.
I found Dorothy through Housing Works, a housing first organization that was finding housing for the most vulnerable homeless people in Pasadena after the city's 2011 homeless count. I wanted to see if their approach to homelessness could work and asked if I could document someone that was chosen. I was introduced to Dorothy through her case manager. Dorothy was proud of the home she made by the side of the freeway and was willing to tell her story. It was not hard to gain her trust. I think she liked the attention and was as curious of me as I was of her. She enjoyed telling stories. I listened and laughed at her jokes.
Here’s what a judge said of the story, photos and video: “I can only describe them as haunting. I felt like I was in the situation those children were in 10 years ago as I read the story and I felt the fear and sadness as the story continued. Seeing the attack and the aftermath through the eyes of a student and the principal were great points of view and well written. These are the type of stories I enjoy because you can tell the journalist had to gain their sources trust and then tread carefully during long interviews. Not many can pull that off.”
This is the second month in a row that Jason has shared the DFMie. He and Brandie Kessler won last month.
Jason and Teresa, please share your video about this project and tell us more about it.
Sarah Amspacher called our newsroom one day to say she wanted to share her story about the attack. We met with her on several occasions, and she initially had hoped that other students would talk as well. But that didn’t work out so we focused more on her and her life.
Much of what we do is breaking news or current issues. This was about an attack that happened 12 years ago. What challenges did the passage of time present, whether in tracking down sources or dealing with faulty memories or some other challenge you don't face in covering things as or right after they happen?
Sarah remembered what happened that day vividly. I think the harder part for Sarah was recalling some of the details of what happened after that day because she was so young. Her mother, Tracy, helped to fill in some of those gaps. For example, Tracy remembered the meltdown Sarah had at the church and how she worried that her daughter’s heart was closing.
I also went back through our archives to check the information against what we had reported at the time as a way of double checking the information.
Teresa and Jason, please feel free to finish you answers, but we'll move on to the next winners: Our Bay Area News Group winners, Reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen and photographer Karl Mondon, completed a months-long assignment with a sprint to the finish after local transportation leaders changed their minds and declared in mid-August that Labor Day weekend would be the opening of the $6 billion new span of the Bay Bridge.
The August coverage included 18 print stories by Lisa and dozens more web updates on the bridge controversy and its resolution, all illustrated, as Bert Robinson said in his nomination, with “fabulous photos from Karl, who has shot the bridge from every angle, at every time of day, braving sun, salt, wind and heights.”
One of the judges said: “The work is detailed, historical and it delivers hard hitting news. As a journalist I admired how Lisa was able to show how the process works and how money was being spent. I could have looked at Karl's photos all day. As a fan of history I enjoyed I was intrigued at how the original bridge was built. Great work all around.”
Karl and Lisa, please share your video and tell us more about your story.
It appears that Karl and Lisa were unable to join us. If you're still working on your answers, go ahead and post them. We'll move along to the next winner: Gary Klien wins the DFMie in Northern California for his detailed analysis of local crime statistics released by the California Department of Justice.
His package incorporated a countywide crime overview with specific information in print for each city in the county. In the online package city data were broken out as sidebars on separate city-specific web pages and were linked to data charts showing detailed crime trends for the past decade.
A judge’s comment: “This in-depth project clearly show the great effort that went into providing a community service to the paper's readers. If I were a resident living within the Marin Independent Journal's coverage area, I would feel safer knowing there's watchdog reporters Gary Klien who are commitment to breaking down the crime stats in order to improve life in the community, and make citizens more aware of their environment. Excellent job!”
The Marin Independent Journal used to be part of the Bay Area News Group (and remains so for business purposes). But the newsroom now operates as part of the Northern California cluster.
Gary’s covering a trial, so he can’t join us. But he emailed this explanation of his project:
Every summer the California Department of Justice releases its annual crime data report for the previous calendar year. It's never a high-priority story for us because the Marin County crime stats are typically low and rather static. Besides that, the annual crime report has historically been released as a huge, user-unfriendly file with inaccessible local data.
This year, I noticed the stats were available on easily searchable online charts that could be easily converted to Excel files and PDFs. So I and two editors, digital editor Dave Allen and city editor Jennifer Swartz, put together an online package that consisted of a county crime overview with links to about a dozen short sidebars for each city and town in Marin County. The mainbar and sidebars each included a customized chart showing the 10-year crime trends for that particular town or city.
The idea of course was to drive web traffic as residents searched for their own towns and then compared them to other communities. But it was also a great way to offer hyperlocalized coverage, rather than a basic 12-inch summary of the crime report.
As a bonus, the project revealed a counterintuitive fact: that violent crime was actually declining in Marin despite a number of splashy, high-profile cases that suggested the county was going to hell in a handbasket. We also learned that Marin was the only Bay Area county in which violent crime fell last year, a noteworthy finding as Marin contends with growth mandates from regional planning bodies.
Moving along to our Colorado/Utah winner: Megan Quinn of the Broomfield Enterprise follows her DFMie as Journalist of the Year for non-daily newsrooms with her August DFMie for reporting on a nursing home. This is the second monthly DFMie for a journalist from a non-daily newsroom. After the arrest of a staff member accused of sexually assaulting patients at Broomfield Skilled Nursing, Megan dug into state and federal records and reported a detailed look at other problems at the home.
Judge’s comment: “When a nurse’s aide was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting two people at a nursing home, Megan Quinn followed up with the sort of story communities rely on – an enterprise piece that took a broader look at the nursing home in question."
Megan, please share your video and tell us more about this story.
Here's links to two short Touts:
We had heard a few rumblings about complaints surrounding Broomfield Skilled Nursing, Broomfield’s only nursing home. When Antonio Nieto, a CNA at the facility, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting two patients, we delved into the case as a way to more broadly investigate patterns in how the nursing home was treating its patients. We found that the nursing home had a history of regulatory problems and staffing issues. There’s also an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the facility, which involves the death of a beloved, longtime Broomfield resident.
Seniors are often considered a vulnerable population, and the Enterprise felt it was important that families who needed to put parents or loved ones in a nursing home should know the complicated issues that can be involved when finding a care facility.
After we ran the story, I received a large volume of calls from people who had spent time at the facility and had had negative experiences. The story ran in August, and I still get calls each week asking for a follow-up or for more information about the case.
You're the only reporter at the Enterprise. What other stories did you have to juggle while working on this story? How did you handle that juggling?
I had been working on a story about a school district who wanted teachers to stop teaching Toni Morrison’s novel, “The Bluest Eye,” which caused a lot of debate in the community. I was also covering an ongoing story about a suspect in a murder case, which required spending a lot of time in court.
Luckily, my editor, Julie Baxter, made it possible for me to spend lots of time on the nursing home story. We rescheduled other planned features I was expected to write, and she even took on the task of writing another major feature herself. That close teamwork--and a bit of overtime-- allowed me to really hone in on all the Medicare documentation, regulatory sourcing and other reporting I needed to do in order to get the facts straight and navigate through the world of nursing home regulations.
Feel free to post more if you have more to say, Megan, but I'll move to the next winners: Andrew Kreighbaum, Alex Hinojosa and Robert Moore win the third DFMie for the El Paso Times for reporting and editorials on cheating by El Paso schools. Zahira Torres and Hayley Kappes shared the December DFMie for their reporting on the scandal, and Zahira was Metro Journalist of the Year for her coverage before moving to the Denver Post. Well, the Times’ stellar coverage of this issue continues relentlessly.
Earlier stories had focused on the El Paso Independent School District. In August stories, Alex Hinojosa reported on problems in the Socorro Independent School District, the city’s second largest school system, and Andrew Kreighbaum uncovered cheating in McAllen, 800 miles away. Andrew also scored a major scoop at the end of August when he obtained a report from the State Auditor’s Office that found that the Texas Education Agency was incapable of investigating cheating.
On the Times’ editorial pages, Bob Moore gave an early warning of the outcome of the Socorro audit, and called for broader investigations in Texas to understand the full scope of the problem.
A judge described the Times’ performance as “reporters doing their job aggressively, with clear vision and the editor making the most of his reporters' efforts and taking a stand to make sure all readers know their state government is letting them down in a major way.”
Alex, Andrew and Bob, please post your video and tell us more about your continuing coverage of this issue.
The school cheating story is one that the El Paso Times has owned going on two years. Our coverage has exposed egregious wrongdoing and triggered important reforms. In August, two major events occurred because of our previous reporting. El Paso’s second-largest school district released an internal investigation that showed that it had engaged in some of the same practices the Times had found in the city’s largest district. Alex Hinojosa was our reporter on that story. Four senior administrators were placed on leave and further investigation was ordered.
At the end of August, the State Auditor’s Office released a report of an investigation that was triggered by Times reporting that showed the Texas Education Agency had ignored explicit evidence of cheating when it investigated and cleared El Paso Independent School District. Andrew Kreighbaum had a major statewide exclusive on this report. The state auditor found that the Texas Education Agency never conducted a real investigation of cheating allegations. More significantly, the auditor found that the TEA had no mechanism to detect cheating anywhere in the state. The agency essentially outsourced cheating investigations to school districts – the very place cheating was likely to occur. This essentially called in to question the integrity of the entire state accountability system. As a result of the report and earlier Times reports, the TEA is creating a new office that will focus on integrity issues.
Alex was here for a while longer but coming on at the Times in the middle of this story I had to do plenty of background reading on articles I missed and documents from investigations that preceded the auditor's report. This started to feel like a story I could have more ownership in because it took a turn in focus from failings at the school district or local level to those at the state level. We've tried to start putting that emphasis on what went wrong at the Texas Education Agency and even the state legislature. The coverage of the state auditor's report on TEA investigations was really our first crack at doing that.
My reporting on the state audit was also helped by previous work done by former Times journalists Zahira and Hayley. Zahira's reporting on unsuccessful attempts by former El Paso school district administrators to have the state investigate the district undermined the efforts of TEA to spin this as just a failure of top leadership.
Alex and Andrew, you addressed this some in the video, but could you elaborate? You've picked up a story that was initially covered by other reporters. How did you get up to speed on the story and build on the reporting that had come before? What breakthroughs made it start to feel like your story?
While Hayley Kappes and Zahira Torres were covering the scandal with EPISD, I was covering the smaller districts in the area - Clint, Socorro, Ysleta, etc.
As they unraveled the scheme because I was covering the schools it was second nature to keep up with it.
It also helped that Hayley sat next to me and kept me up to date.
We've covered a lot of ground here and reviewed some excellent work. Do any winners have anything else to add before we wrap up?
When we were hiring for an education reporter, we specifically looked for someone who could continue to build on the cheating issue. Andrew clearly emerged as the top candidate, and has done a great job moving the story forward.
We’ll make two significant changes in the DFMies, starting with the September DFMies. We’ll have a separate metro division, where the Denver Post, Salt Lake Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, BANG, LANG and Thunderdome newsrooms will compete against each other. We’ll also roll our ToutBout awards in with the DFMies for September. Judging for the September awards starts soon, and the winners will be announced in November.
The breakthroughs that made it feel like it was becoming my story was the first report that these practices were occurring in one of the smaller districts I was covering - San Elizario ISD.
From there, we (meaning the Times) began to ask whether other districts would self report to the TEA and conduct their own audits. That's when it began to feel like my story.
Once we started to ask those questions some area districts - like Socorro and Ysleta (the third largest district) decided to conduct their own audits - while others - like Clint ISD, a smaller district who has been criticized for other things - refused to do so. The major breakthrough was of course when SISD announced the release of their findings and placed the four administrators on leave.
Thanks for joining us for this liveblog. Thanks and congratulations to all of the winners. I'll leave it open a few more minutes, in case any winners have anything to add, but I'm done. Looking forward to seeing more great Digital First journalism next month.
Alex also has done a great job picking up the story.
I'd like to add that I really appreciated how our editors worked with us on this story. Scott Blanchard helped us to hone a difficult story, and his multiple reads on the story made it even stronger.