Journalism Showcase

” . . . There’s just a growing desire to know more about where our food comes from and how it’s prepared”

What elements went inside ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne's latest feature about the health quality of stadium food?

ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne gained attention in 2010 for her report on the food being served at stadiums and arenas across North America.

Thursday, Lavigne published a new report analyzing the last two years of data. The accompanying piece was featured on Outside the Lines and will air on Sunday’s E:60 (9 a.m., ESPN2).

What’s lurking in your stadium food?

In addition to Lavigne’s report there is a great graphics presentation, designed for fans to easily search their local venues and to better understand the grading scale.

“Our challenge was to let the user navigate, search, sort and filter the list of venues, while incorporating the eye-opening details of the inspection reports, said art director Luke Knox. “On the Content Design team, we’re always looking to get involved with this kind of storytelling that ESPN does as well as anyone. We always want to amplify the company’s best storytelling, like our investigative reporting, in innovative and new ways.”

“In 2010 we looked at every NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL venue in North America. That show and the accompanying digital story generated a lot of feedback and attention,” said Lavigne. “We thought it was time to revisit the issue especially now that more and more fans take to social media to post about their experiences with bad food, and there’s just a growing desire to know more about where our food comes from and how it’s prepared.”

Collecting and analyzing two full years of data was no small task.

“Although most health departments now have these inspection records online, several still require you to submit records requests,” said Lavigne. “As you can imagine, it takes a long time to collect data for 111 different entities. While gathering the data, we looked for people who could talk to us about all sides of the issue – fans, health department inspectors, concession operators and people who study food safety trends.”

This time Lavigne was able to dig even deeper into the investigation but what she discovered was even more shocking.

“This time, we had the opportunity to walk through an arena kitchen and concession stand to see what inspectors look for when they conduct inspections – thanks to the accommodating folks at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.,” Lavigne said. “Even though I had read through thousands of reports before, I was pretty shocked at how many – what we might consider ‘little things’ – are potential risks for food-borne illness or contamination,” Lavigne said.

Despite being a self-proclaimed “cleanliness freak,” Lavigne said the inspector opened her eyes further.

“There were things the inspector pointed out that really made me realize why these rules are so vital, especially when you’re serving thousands of people at one time,” said Lavigne. “I was also kind of shocked that there were still some sports venues getting scant inspections; that was an issue that came up last time, and I thought all health departments now would be more vigilant.”

– Molly Mita

1. Tonight, Dec. 14 two of the top Eastern Conference teams go head-to-head as the Philadelphia 76ers host the Indiana Pacers (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). The 10:30 p.m. matchup features top Western Conference teams, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets.

2. On Monday, Dec. 17 the Panthers host the Saints for a key NFC South matchup between the division leader and the wildcard contender on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN).

3. This Saturday, Dec. 15 begins bowl season with the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl at Noon ET on ESPN and the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl at 3:30 p.m.

4. This Saturday, Dec. 15 is the Division 1 Volleyball Championship live from Minneapolis on ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET).

– Molly Mita

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