Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – June 30, 2017

Investigative reporter Tisha Thompson spent months uncovering the details of University of Rochester football player Niko Kollias’ abduction and brutal beating. This Sunday on E:60 (9 a.m. ET), Thompson sits with Kollias for his first television interview since the December 2015 attack and reveals never-before-seen video from the torture.

According to Thompson, one of the attackers recorded video on his cellphone which he had since deleted, but police were able to recover it.

“What stays with me is something the prosecutor said: The video is taken within the first three hours of 40 hours of torture,” said Thompson. “And it’s only 30 seconds; there’s so much more they went through.”

In addition to the cell phone video, Thompson was able to obtain surveillance video from a previous attack that involved University of Rochester football teammate and star linebacker Isaiah Smith. Unlike Kollias, however, Smith was responsible for the attacks that took place on a group of drug dealers.

The surveillance video of the hammer attack was a lot of work [to get]. I was able to obtain that video from the prosecutors because it was part of the evidence. There were 14 surveillance cameras watching where the hammer attacks took place. – ESPN investigative reporter Tisha Thompson

“The surveillance video of the hammer attack was a lot of work [to get]. I was able to obtain that video from the prosecutors because it was part of the evidence. There were 14 surveillance cameras watching where the hammer attacks took place,” she said. “I actually sat in the Around the Horn offices in Washington D.C., watching hours of surveillance video, piecing together who was who.”

The biggest piece of evidence that Thompson found came about after searching through a file of court documents.

“At about 40 pages in, I saw it. It said $15,000 bond and it said ‘Isaiah Smith.’ Then I see the signature, ‘Dan Kyle,’ and coach listed under profession and then employer University of Rochester,” Thompson said. “I looked up because I thought, ‘Do people realize what I have here?’”

Thompson says that document was so important because it demonstrated what Kollias talked about in his interview with her, that he felt like coaches were giving Smith preferential treatment.

“When I got that document I thought, ‘This really is a major arch in the story. Isaiah Smith plays a really important role. It’s about more than these two kids that were kidnapped and tortured and Niko’s incredible story. It’s also why? How did it happen? What was the culture of the university that in Niko’s mind allowed it to happen? So that was a big piece of paper, it was right there in the public record just buried.”

Thompson has reported on many investigations but says that this was the most disturbing. This Sunday, Kollias will share his story with Thompson for the first time on television.

ESPN Australia editor on Pacquiao vs. Horn significance

On Saturday night – mid-day Sunday “Down Under,” Manny Pacquiao will defend his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight crown against undefeated No. 1 contender Jeff “The Hornet” Horn at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. The “Battle of Brisbane” – Pacquiao’s first non-pay per view fight since 2005 – will be televised live in the U.S. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (9 p.m. ET).

As big as this fight is in America, it is arguably the most important sports event of the year in Australia with Horn, one of Brisbane’s own, contending for the title against Pacquiao, who is seeking his 60th career win. Naturally, ESPN’s news and information team in Australia is committing significant resources to cover the fight.

Assistant editor Jake Michaels, who works on ESPN’s localized ESPN.com.au Australia edition, is among the ESPN Australia contingent working the fight this weekend. Michaels joined the company in 2013 and generally covers Aussie Rules football (AFL) and Formula 1 while based in Melbourne.

In the Q&A below, he discusses the Pacquiao fight and how this event has given the ESPN Australia team the opportunity to work alongside the company’s America colleagues, including boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, whom Michaels interviews in the video below.

What does the Pacquiao-Horn fight mean to sports fans in Australia?
A month ago? Nothing. Now? A hell of a lot. The only thing Australians love more than a great sporting story is a great sporting triumph. Jeff Horn is proving to be a very likable guy, and if he emerges victorious on Sunday, it could propel Australia back onto the international boxing scene. There’s certainly a lot at stake.

How long have you been covering Horn and what are your impressions of him?
Horn’s rise in the ranks has been quite rapid in Australia, so we’ve only really begun covering him in the buildup to his WBO World Welterweight title fight with Pacquiao. I was fortunate enough to secure a one-on-one interview with Horn in mid-June, and it’s easy to see why he’s so popular with the fans. He is such a humble and friendly guy that everyone seems to be able to relate to, and he certainly isn’t afraid of a challenge.

How much interaction have you had with ESPN’s American unit covering the fight?
It’s always great to get the opportunity to work alongside the experienced and professional ESPN America team. In Brisbane, I have spent some time working with [ESPN producer] Jim Zirolli who was able to facilitate an interview with legendary boxing trainer Teddy Atlas. I have also been able to bounce content ideas off [ESPN.com senior editor] Andrew Feldman, who is back in the U.S.

For more on the Pacquiao-Horn fight from Michaels, visit these stories:

– By Bill Hofheimer
Jake Michaels and Jim Zirolli produced the video above.

Journalism on Display

    • Sunday’s SportsCenter SC Featured segment will tell the story of Warrior Games athlete Christy Gardner, who despite sustaining catastrophic injuries while serving in the Army continues as an inspiration for others. Jon Stewart, former host of “The Daily Show” who has campaigned for veterans, will interview Gardner after the story airs. The feature, narrated by Tom Rinaldi, will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, July 2. The 2017 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, a multi-sport event for wounded, injured or ill service personnel and veterans, will be held June 30–July 8 in Chicago. Stewart and Hannah Storm will anchor the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter and other segments from the Warrior Games on July 7.
    • ESPN The Magazine writer Alyssa Roenigk tells the inspiring story of veteran and aspiring Paralympian Sergeant Kirstie Ennis. Ennis, a retired Marine Corps Sergeant, lost her leg in Afghanistan but never gave up competing. She competed in the Invictus Games, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and now she is training to compete with the 2018 U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team at the Winter Paralympics. She is one of many inspiring athletes whose body tells a story in ESPN The Magazine’s 2017 Body Issue.
    • When ESPN writer Alden Gonzales overheard a conversation in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spring training clubhouse, he couldn’t help but pursue the story on the man responsible for creating some of the stars’ most elaborate custom cars. Gonzales takes readers through the initial conversation and then introduces them to the man himself, Miami’s Alex Vega.
    • Most people know the extreme diets of NFL players like quarterback Tom Brady, but this time Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is sharing his secrets to cutting weight, and it involves a nine-meal, 4,800-calorie diet. After his less-than-perfect 2016 season, Wilson is determined to make changes that will help him improve this NFL season. ESPN writer Sheil Kapadia gives readers an inside look at how Wilson’s doing just that, and it starts with food coach Philip Goglia.
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