The Eagle Explains: Introducing The Eagle’s Investigative Team
The last 18 months have been a whirlwind of exhaustion, grief and chaos at The Eagle, and in general. We’ve weathered constant breaking news, coordinating reporters across too many time zones to count and we’ve been diving headfirst into painful reporting on the pandemic and its impact on our University.
The breakneck pace highlighted The Eagle’s need for reporting that slows down and examines the root causes of issues faced by our community.
Our return to campus after a year and a half hiatus is the perfect opportunity to launch a new investigative team. While we’ve long pursued investigative work when the need arose, a steady team will allow greater accountability, speed and flexibility. My hope is that we’ll be able to dedicate time to some of the most time-consuming and tedious parts of journalism: document research, data reporting and using the Freedom of Information Act, to name a few.
There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of investigative reporting, but I’ll borrow one from John Dunbar, Investigations Editor at Bloomberg Industry Group and former CEO of the Center for Public Integrity. The following is drawn from an internal memo he wrote for his own team.
“I prefer to define it through its components. If a story includes any of these elements as outlined below, it may be considered ‘investigative.’
- Exposure of a systemic problem in government or business [or university].
- Potential for impact on those systems.
- Intensive data gathering, creation of original databases and data analysis.
- Use of non-public documents, acquired through records requests and sources.
- Use of well-placed sources with access to sensitive information.
- A willingness by the reporter to ask ‘why’ something is the way it is, and ‘how’ it got that way.”
The goal of our new team is twofold: tackle intimidating, large-scale investigative and enterprise projects that the pace of daily news can make inaccessible; and train Eagle reporters in the disciplines of research, fact-checking, data and source-building.
The team is small — made up of reporters Skye Witley, Alisha Chhangani and Jordan Young. I edit. I appreciate the opportunity to give you my thoughts on the team, but I’m not the one who will be reporting individual stories most of the time. With that in mind, here’s some perspective from each reporter about why they’re on the team and what they hope to achieve.
“I've found investigative journalism to be one of the most fulfilling and thrilling sub-sects of the media industry because each day I have an opportunity to hold those in power accountable for their actions and navigate the risks and challenges of the reporting process,” Witley said. He’s looking forward to more opportunities to explore interwoven, engaging and complicated narratives.
Witley has been the reporter responsible for our first two investigative pieces following the departure of former University chaplain Mark Schaefer in 2019. In July, it was revealed that the chaplain was being sued by a former student over sexual assault allegations. On Wednesday, we published a follow-up, detailing how three women filed written complaints against Schaefer within the Methodist church, resulting in him being stripped of his titles and association with the organization.
Alisha Chhangani joined the team in hopes of increasing transparency and exploring issues important to the campus community, she told me.
“I hope to use my unique perspectives to examine underrepresented experiences at AU,” Chhangani said. “The investigative team at The Eagle fosters a collaborative environment, where new ideas, angles, stories are all explored. I look forward to strengthening my interviewing, reporting, and data collection skills as I continue to contribute to The Eagle.”
Jordan Young, the final member to round out our investigative team, agreed. Ultimately, she said: “I wanted to be on The Eagle’s investigative team in order to hold AU and other institutions accountable, and I hope to shed light on important stories about students and our community that otherwise would not get the chance to be told.”
We plan to work with other sections on research and source building, and we depend on our colleagues’ daily coverage to inform and contextualize the longer-form investigative work we’ll be concentrating on. Because this is such a new team, I’m looking for feedback from readers and Eagle staff on how we do our work, what we concentrate on and where we can best meet our community’s needs.