Minnesota Public Radio News investigated cover-ups by the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese of clergy sexual abuse committed over several decades. The investigation was reported on multiple platforms: accused priests database, radio documentary, web series and ongoing daily reporting for the web and radio. What stands out about the reporting is how well MPR News delivered the information on multiple platforms, which can be a challenge for radio stations. Lead reporter Madeleine Baran, radio producer Sasha Aslanian and web editor Meg Martin shared information about how they reported the story for multiple platforms in the webinar recorded here. Some highlights:
How the story found them:
The investigation began with a cold-call to the newsroom by Archdiocese whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger. She had heard Baran's reporting on abuse at an Episcopal boarding school on the radio. Baran quickly suggested they meet in person.
How MPR got compelling tape:
"We were on the hunt for tape immediately," said Baran. Take a listen (beginning at 4:55) to the audio testimonial victim Brian Herrity recorded near the end of his life. He described the sexual abuse he endured as a child and his troubles thereafter. The MPR News team was also on the pursuit for archival audio to illustrate how the scandal unfolded over time.
Three tools for organizing a big investigation:
Timeline -- The team kept track of all the events with a timeline that grew into a 500 - 600 page Word document. "When you think chronologically, there are connections that surface that you weren't aware of," said Baran.
Spreadsheet -- Maintaining a spreadsheet helped MPR News organize information about the priests and the accusations. It also helped MPR keep track of what assets they need, like photos, to tell the story. The information helped build a searchable database of priests and parishes.
DocumentCloud -- One reporter spent six months searching for court documents. Those records were kept on DocumentCloud, which would later come in handy with the web reporting.
When to sidestep your CMS:
The existing content management system didn't accommodate embedded documents or large photos, which were crucial to the telling of the story. The MPR News digital team made the case to senior managers to commit resources to the project and got buy-in early from editors.
Tips for newsrooms that are short on resources:
Find a way to to do a version of the story, said Baran. Newsrooms are always making decisions on how to allocate resources. Following a big story may involve taking a more manageable chunk or collaborating with other news organizations to get the resources that you might not be able to get locally.