“Impact journalism,” loosely defined, is reporting and storytelling that leads to new examinations or concrete changes in whatever the topic that’s being covered (see: ESPN’s recent Baylor scandal work).
Sunday’s Outside The Lines (ESPN, 9 a.m. ET) with reporting by T.J. Quinn provides a case study of how investigative reporting can lead to tangible action. The recent re-opening of a Dallas case where two highly-recruited high school basketball players had a fight that resulted in one’s death, was spurred by OTL’s reporting.
Front Row spoke with OTL producer Simon Baumgart to gain some insight into the many months of reporting and content-gathering, which included scouring hours of video, audio, interviews and written reports. (In telling the story of Johnathan Turner and Troy Causey, the show utilizes a slightly different presentation from normal OTL episodes, with no studio elements in, or out, of the piece, which runs 24 minutes.)
What was it about this story that made OTL want to further investigate?
Originally we [reporter T.J. Quinn and Baumgart] were drawn to the death of Troy Causey and what it led to. It unearthed a huge recruiting scandal but the more we dug the more the story unfolded.
What is the biggest challenge you face when producing an investigative story where a decision has already been made in the case?
First and foremost when you report on a story you try to be as accurate as possible. In this case, a dead child is involved and a grieving mother. We were focused on being fair and honest in the way we reported, thinking of her at all times. The more information we found, the more we wanted to back it up.
Your team sought out eight medical experts to review the autopsy. Why did you choose to do that?
The first examiner we went to said that Causey sustained one injury. We questioned that because it was completely different from the original findings. We went to another examiner, Dr. Elizabeth Laposata, who is in the piece. She has 30 years of experience and she said that he died from the fall. So we just kept going to be thorough.
What challenges did you face when interviewing the victim’s mother?
The information that we found disagreed with what she believed. We had to be extremely delicate, while sticking to the facts.
What is the feeling knowing a long-term project you worked on has led to a case being re-opened?
Working on this piece has been so rewarding it is something I’ve never experienced before. Our editor [Nate Hogan] acted as another producer on this piece; we all worked together. Our bosses gave us the time and the resources to spend a year on this. We wanted to have everything before we went on air. Through a conversation the District Attorney had with T.J., [the D.A.] learned that we had talked to a person of interest and obtained new information. Right there he cancelled our interview and said the case was being re-opened.