7 characteristics of effective accountability journalists
No matter what topics they cover, many journalists hold people and institutions responsible for their words and actions. This “accountability journalism,” whether it is political fact-checking, investigations or other forms of reporting, must still engage readers and impact audiences to be effective. All journalism, in the end, should strive to make the significant interesting.
Through its Accountability Journalism Program, the American Press Institute is trying to help journalists do that. One step we’ve taken is to identify the shared characteristics and processes of some of the most effective accountability reporters in the country. These include journalists who cover politics, investigations, education, sports, culture and society.
So what is “accountability journalism”? And what do we mean by “effective”?
A comprehensive definition of accountability journalism is provided in the recent book, “The News Media: What Everyone Should Know” by C.W. Anderson, Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson:
“Accountability journalism encompasses traditional investigative reporting, but much more. It includes fact-checking political speech, digging into digital data, and aggressive beat coverage to reveal as much as possible about what is really going on in every aspect of American society – from national security, government, politics, business and finance to the environment, education, health, social welfare, sports, and the media industry itself.”
And how do we identify effective accountability reporters? These are journalists who excel at reaching broad audiences with great impact, and are successful in communicating meaning and context in their stories. Their work is closely read and widely shared, and often has the power to change minds and policies.
These journalists are naturally immersed in successful, 21st-century journalism. They know they must understand and adapt to the needs and rhythms of different communities to be relevant.
Recently, we gathered 17 such reporters for two days in Washington, with the goal of identifying techniques and models that can be shared to help journalists everywhere make reporting on government and civic affairs more effective. Our working sessions were designed to unearth what these 17 reporters are doing that’s successful and to build teachable models from it. Our draft report then was reviewed by experts.
In those sessions, we gathered some early ideas and information that will help inform our ongoing study. Looking at the specific characteristics of these highly impactful journalists and their work, we see a pattern. From listening to them, we have identified at least seven characteristics they have in common (listed in this report in no particular order). These journalists:
- Exhibit broad curiosity; eagerly adapt to new technologies and platforms.
- Think about multiple audiences.
- Work hard to create context for their audiences.
- Smartly balance their time on story choices and audience interactions.
- Spend considerable time building relationships with sources, readers.
- Build connections and teamwork within their own newsrooms.
- Find their own way and direct their own work.
Exhibit broad curiosity; eagerly adapt to new technologies
The high-impact accountability reporters we studied consider themselves — and are seen by others — as “early adopters.” Their high level of curiosity propels them to adapt to new platforms, audiences, technology and content with unusual willingness and a sense of necessity and practicality.
“Mutate or die,” is how Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot News political writer and opinion editor John Micek explained his own transition from traditional to multiplatform journalism.
There is an “unevenness” in newsrooms in who takes on those challenges. But for these reporters, an appetite for transformation and a desire to be experimental is evident. “I try to go into the sandbox and play around,” said Brandon Rittiman, a TV political journalist from Denver station KUSA.
An innate curiosity, sense of purpose and even bravery seem to underpin the journalists’ willingness to embrace change.”
Troy Carter, a government reporter from the Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle, created an experiment using podcasts on Facebook and mapped campaign finances. Tom Jackman, a Washington Post crime reporter and the most experienced journalist in our group, said, “Though I play the role of old and crotchety, I actually like learning about and using new stuff. I want people to see my work, however that happens.”
An innate curiosity, sense of purpose and even bravery seem to underpin the journalists’ willingness to embrace change. Clinton Yates, a sports and culture reporter from ESPN’s The Undefeated, said, “It’s interesting to me to hear reporters say, ‘OK, I’m done with this print story and now I’m going to get a sandwich.’ I can’t imagine going back to that world” — an old-school world where a reporter’s job is done when the print deadline is met.
Think about multiple audiences
Within the expansive term “audience” are numerous diverse communities, and a point we heard repeatedly from these journalists is that they think about multiple audiences.
Some of the audiences can be quite specific. Some reporting and writing is aimed at one particular audience, and sometimes it’s designed for more than one. Among those audiences or communities the reporters have in mind as they produce their work are:
- Highly engaged citizens: voters, taxpayers and community members.
- Not-so-highly engaged citizens: They need more context, and are better served by stories about the meaning of events instead of process.
- The political class: people who work in or closely follow the inside game of politics professionally.
- “Niche” groups that are highly affected by the specific issue or action being written about.
- Powerful individuals and institutions: Some even talked about writing a story with specific powerful influencers in mind, such as a mayor or school board. And reporters told us that important community issues were addressed afterward because that particular person or entity became aware of the problem.
- Diverse audiences: Reaching out to audiences who are diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and other demographic characteristics.
The multiple-audience concept is clear in their answers to our question: “Who are you writing for?” The answers included “my mom,” children, parents, and political junkies.
A background in a non-journalism field also seems to be advantageous.”
A background in a non-journalism field also seems to be advantageous. Stephanie Arnold, a former print reporter and now a social media manager for Philly.com, said she has long referred to herself as a “digital immigrant.” She says her work in other industries — including retail and non-profit — has given her a baseline of understanding customer service and solving problems. Lauren McGaughy, a Dallas Morning News politics reporter who holds degrees in Asian and Islamic studies, also credited her interest in interactivity and social media to her non-traditional entry into journalism.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: Curiosity is essential, says Marty Kaiser, former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a board member for the Center for Journalism Ethics who helped to review this report. Highly effective accountability journalists want to know, “What am I missing? Who can I talk to or what documents can I use to increase my expertise and allow me to write with more authority and have more impact?” Kaiser said. “In addition, the best journalists understand the shades of gray that are often part of accountability journalism. They understand that life and people are complicated.”
The journalists use several methods to reach those pockets of readers and potential audiences: attending events held by that niche community; asking sources for their ideas on how to get the community to pay attention to a particular story; and having informal “barstool” conversations, as Lee Tolliver, a sports and news reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, described it.
A true respect for those audiences is important. “Many of my readers have been around politics a lot longer than I have and add great context” to her reporting, said Briana Bierschbach, a MinnPost politics reporter. When meeting with niche groups, said Brandon Rittiman, simply listening is important. The reporter’s attitude should not be, “I understand this and you don’t,” he said.
“I don’t want to get too savvy,” said Topeka Capital-Journal state government reporter Jonathan Shorman, explaining that he wants to remain as curious and questioning as his audiences. Another reporter said a crucial characteristic of a good journalist is one who will “act as an aggressive advocate for readers.”
One concept that came up repeatedly in discussions with this group of journalists was “cultural competence” and having the skills to listen to, understand and identify with diverse cultures in one’s community — skills that are essential in producing successful 21st-century journalism.
Much like the best doctors and police officers, these journalists strive to learn and understand all sorts of cultural variables they might not share with their audiences — race, gender, age, faith, socioeconomic status and more.
They also understand that audiences no longer need to adapt their lives to media distribution and production styles; instead, successful journalism has to understand and adapt to the needs and rhythms of its different communities to be relevant.
“Diverse” ranked high among the terms used by the group to describe their audiences:
Newsroom diversity obviously is necessary to help reach diverse communities, we heard. But newsroom diversity alone is not sufficient. And this broader concept of diversity encompassed in the notion of cultural competence also means that newsroom diversity is a matter of intellectual openness and empathy — and is not the job simply of editors or those who hire.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: “The best reporters listen and learn,” says Marty Kaiser. “They know they have a lot to learn about whatever subject they are reporting and writing about. The best reporters are not afraid of asking what many reporters might think are stupid questions. The Enron scandal was uncovered by a reporter who wasn’t afraid to say she didn’t understand what the company was doing and simply asked for an explanation.”
Work hard to create context for their audiences
These journalists strategize ways to ensure their stories have context and a place in their readers’ lives. They think about impact as they report, frame and write, keeping in mind who can take action on the issue at hand. (This characteristic and relationship-building were tied at No.1 when participants were asked which of these seven characteristics they believe are most important.)
John Micek, who emphasized that he did not want to be “an ivory-tower editorial writer,” said he often uses the “taxpayer’s money” angle as a way to explain how a particular topic matters in readers’ daily lives. Kera Wanielista, a crime and education reporter for the Skagit (Wash.) Valley Herald, said her best stories are those that “do a good job of narrowing down larger issues so that they mean something to my community.”
(These journalists) think about impact as they report, frame and write, keeping in mind who can take action on the issue at hand.”
One reporter made a routine campaign financing story more relevant by telling readers about “donations from their neighbors.” Others consistently use data to provide relevancy to stories.
Anjeanette Damon, a government watchdog reporter at the Reno Gazette, used her own social media network as well as all of her newspaper’s branded accounts to generate discussion and ideas for how the city should spend its $10 million surplus last year. That caught the attention of policymakers who subsequently allotted more time for public input on the issue.
Mary Ellen Klas, a longtime political and government reporter for the Miami Herald, said she seeks to write about “what people don’t understand” and, more importantly, why they need to. She also gravitates to “outrage factor” stories: topics that can lead to emotional reactions.
Clinton Yates operates on the idea that stories need to touch readers “on two or three levels.” For example, a story about a new amphitheater can be written to provide importance to a reader who’s a taxpayer, a parent or a music fan.
Though the number of competitive media markets is declining, some journalists do face competition on specific stories or topics. And that’s when providing context and meaning to their coverage can give them an audience-share advantage.
Jason Rosenbaum, a St. Louis Public Radio reporter who covered the Ferguson police shooting and protests, said he was able to compete with news organizations around the world by providing something they didn’t: historical context concerning how police, communities and other agencies work together in Missouri.
These strategies also tend to draw in new and socially/demographically diverse audiences. “If you can’t find readers [other than] who’s been reading your publication in the past, you’re not going to survive from a business standpoint,” said Clinton Yates.
“One audience isn’t going to sustain you,” said Lee Tolliver.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: Context is “hugely important,” says Kaiser, because “with that comes impact. Journalists must spend their time and effort to do reporting that has impact. The days are long past when we could publish ‘he said, she said’ stories … A first step for journalists to have impact from their stories is do deep reporting so they can write the truth” and let readers know why a story matters.
Smartly balance their time on story choices, audience interaction
As reporters are being asked to juggle more tasks with fewer resources, high-impact journalists are skilled at managing their responsibilities through what one reporter called “the art of the calendar.”
They run their days and devise their work methods in a way that’s anticipatory, efficient and flexible. They give unusual consideration to balancing the need to “feed the beast” with their desire to provide audience interaction and more impactful content.
— Skagit photos (@photo_SVH) October 20, 2016
These journalists are much more likely to say (as one reporter phrased it) “screw the beast.” They’ve discovered value in choosing stories that have significant impact, and have learned to balance their duties to audiences with their duties to editors. On a regular basis, they naturally prioritize the work in front of them. Brandon Rittiman, for instance, sees “political junkie stories” as lower priority, ranking behind stories written for “regular people.”
Kera Wanielista noted, “I think I need to do enough ‘boring’ educational policy stuff to make the superintendents and the insiders trust me, but I think that through my reporting, my writing, and how I interact with the kids, I think it’s obvious to all of my sources and my readers that my loyalty lies with the kids.”
(These journalists have) discovered value in choosing stories that have significant impact, and have learned to balance their duties to audiences with their duties to editors.”
We heard much discussion of smart planning and a strong tendency to anticipate audience needs. Lee Tolliver videotapes interviews for accuracy in print, as well as for the video platform. Graham Moomaw, a state government reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, writes a web headline before he writes his story, anticipating digital impact. Ricardo Lopez, a politics and government reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, continuously maintains connections with “like-minded people” — not those who necessarily agree with his work but those who believe in transparency and want more attention for their particular issue. They will “become your allies and partners in making things public,” he said.
When Lauren McGaughy feels her story could use a fresh perspective or believes the story could be produced more efficiently with a partner, she seeks out another reporter and has no hesitation about sharing a byline.
Mary Ellen Klas abides by her vow that she’ll “never write the same story again,” finding a new angle or new platform “to advance the body of knowledge” rather than repeat it — a practice that keeps readers interested in ongoing topics.
Even their choice of platforms and story forms is a decision made early in the process, not an afterthought. Clinton Yates suggested writing a music review using only emojis. Lee Tolliver once “interviewed” a striped bass to help explain new statewide fishing regulations and, more recently, “talked” to a shark to help explain recent attacks.
Even their choice of platforms and story forms is a decision made early in the process, not an afterthought.”
These reporters also believe that publication of their content is just the start of the workflow. Where social media teams are non-existent or overwhelmed — typical in many newsrooms — these reporters take on that responsibility, distributing their stories on appropriate platforms. “We are our own sales people for our stories and budgeters of our time,” said Brandon Rittiman.
Their social media efforts lead to reading, listening and responding to readers — and that’s where they strive to balance the time they spend communicating with individual readers and viewers against the time they devote to other aspects of their jobs. While these journalists apply considerable time and effort to this task, they agree that weighing the benefits for the often time-consuming interactions is on ongoing struggle.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: Accountability journalism can be time- and labor-intensive, typically more consuming than daily or breaking stories. Time management skills and adept prioritization of tasks and goals are critical.
Spend time building relationships with sources, readers
While it’s true that high-impact reporters use multiple forms of digital communication to help find and connect with sources and audiences, it’s clear that personal contact is at least equally important to them.
“I never turn down an invitation,” said Mary Ellen Klas, who added that she answers every email from readers.
As a former state legislative reporter, John Micek said that “the most productive thing I did at the legislature was walking the halls and talking to people.”
Lee Tolliver attends an annual awards event for young athletes — not to write about it, but for “source and audience management.”
Stephanie Arnold said her philosophy is to “start interacting with our audiences before we need them. If you haven’t talked to your audience all year, and then you all of a sudden demand something of them, what kind of relationship is that? Relationships should be reciprocal.”
Politics reporters in particular often have another obstacle in building source and audience relationships: Many news organizations have a distinctly partisan editorial reputation that historically can add a layer of difficulty to reporters’ source-building and outreach. Briana Bierschbach works for an organization that some people view as left-leaning. For her, connecting effectively with conservative audiences requires “more legwork … taking them out to lunch, talking with them, spending more time.”
Kera Wanielista noted that her former supervisor, now a manager at a television station, taught her that “it’s OK for our audiences to think of us as real people and for us to share parts of ourselves with them.”
John Micek, too, believes that his decision to tell the story of his wife’s miscarriage as a way to help explain the consequences of controversial medical legislation helped him connect with sources and readers — particularly those opposed to the legislation.
The journalists also make specific efforts to deal with oppositional audiences. Their tactics include meeting with groups or individuals personally; responding calmly and reasonably to emails and online comments; and in one case, arranging for a vocal critic to write an op-ed column. “Most people just want other people to hear them,” said Jeremy White, a statehouse reporter for the Sacramento Bee.
Most people just want other people to hear them.”
But it’s noteworthy that, while they’re clearly passionate about reaching all readers, they also had some ambivalence about connecting with angry, anonymous readers. Several reported receiving abusive and even threatening comments on website stories and through social media. One reporter had to pepper-spray a hostile reader when it appeared the man would become physically violent, and at least one reporter had to call police about phone threats.
Ricardo Lopez said such abuse can harm recruiting and retention of diverse staffers and takes an unhealthy toll on journalists. Yates called it “an emotional health issue” and suggested that newsrooms find ways for reporters to discuss and deal with attacks.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: “Getting to know sources face-to-face is vital to finding accountability stories and doing strong reporting,” says Kaiser. “Often the best stories can come from what start as general conversations.” And working through even difficult relationships with readers is vital because the result can be audience growth and more valuable sources.
Build connections within their own newsrooms
In addition to cultural competency with different communities, these highly effective reporters also manage the challenges of life inside stressed and stressful newsrooms.
That navigation includes finding “tribes” of like-minded colleagues in all departments and helping to build bridges among those tribes; and when confronted with problems, finding constructive solutions rather than spending energy venting.
From an individual standpoint, affiliating with those tribes helps to “balance out the bad actors,” as one reporter said, who are impediments or distractions. From a workflow standpoint, a tribe that spans the news organization — from advertising and marketing to circulation and finance — can be a facilitator to problem-solving. These journalists recognize that getting a solution to an internal problem doesn’t simply involve complaining: It’s reaching the person who can actually do something about the problem.
A tribe that spans the news organization — from advertising and marketing to circulation and finance — can be a facilitator to problem-solving.”
Their deeper understanding of the newsroom culture also means these reporters often have the disposition to connect the various tribes. Stephanie Arnold said she gradually introduces reporters to new platforms, offering practical advice such as “Don’t use all the platforms at the same time” and “Don’t try new platforms on deadline.”
Clinton Yates explained how he works with more traditional journalists to get them to embrace new tools and responsibilities such as social media: He tells them how he played football, soccer and basketball as a student, and participating in each sport helped him grow as an athlete.
Likewise, he said, being skilled in many new facets of journalism also leads to better performance.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: Productive newsroom conversations are essential, says Kaiser. “In too many newsrooms journalists can spend too much time talking about things they can not control. The best journalists talk journalism with their colleagues. They talk about the best stories and what made them the best stories. They engage colleagues to critique their work and help them find ways to strengthen it.”
|Eagerly adapt to
|Spend time building
|Work to create
context for audiences
Data Source: Answers from our group of 17 accountability reporters.
American Press Institute
Find their own way and direct their own work
When discussing their work, these journalists did not talk a lot about “editors” or “assignments.” Rather we were struck by the degree to which they took their responsibilities and ran with them, charting their own way, directing their own work.
They are a group that’s unlikely to wait for marching orders. “Independence” is a journalist’s most valuable characteristic, one reporter said.
While newsrooms sometimes have limited guidance from overburdened bosses and a dearth of mentors, these journalists didn’t appear particularly troubled by it. They generally seemed highly confident in their abilities.
“I think all my ideas are good ideas and I’m surprised when they fail,” said Stephanie Arnold.
They are explorers, finding their own way, but with one eye on tradition and business necessity. “Feeding the beast” was the way some reporters described needing to fill the daily newspaper or evening broadcast. Stephanie Arnold called it “adulting.”
“You have to do what you have to do in order to do what you want to do,” she said.
And what they want to do is pursue original stories that deserve attention, rather than track the agendas and announcements of officials. For instance, Mary Ellen Klas decided that she didn’t “want to write about legislative agendas anymore” and instead opted to focus on “counterintuitive stories.” For example, “What are [the legislators] NOT talking about?”
They also are good at “managing up” in the organization, setting expectations before embarking on a new idea or project, and using their enterprising ideas to dissuade an editor from assigning what they consider less meaningful stories.
Why this characteristic is important in accountability journalism: The type of employee traditionally labeled as a “self-starter” is a key characteristic — possibly even a necessity — for today’s accountability journalists. The typical newsroom’s declining supply of editors and experienced mentors mean there’s less time spent guiding longer-term, deeply researched reporting projects. These journalists need to possess a high level of self-sufficiency.
The American Press Institute will continue to move forward with efforts to help accountability journalists do their jobs more effectively and engagingly. Here are some additional questions that all news organizations can consider and pursue:
How do your write for your current audience and expand it at the same time?
When competing with national/international media on an accountability story, how does a local news organization break through the scrum and achieve impact?
How do you maintain audience and impact with an ongoing accountability story, such as an election or an environmental crisis?
How do you handle/recover from mistakes and still maintain your impact and audience?
How can journalists determine if their accountability reporting is achieving maximum impact?
What percentage of decisions about accountability coverage is made by the editor? By the reporter? Mostly dictated by audiences?
How can newsrooms use data to inform the best choice of platforms for accountability stories?
Balance and resiliency
How can accountability reporters — who get more feedback from audiences than most other types of reporters — deal with hostile audiences from a workflow standpoint? From an emotional health standpoint?
Why do some accountability reporters stay in the business while others — also good reporters — have chosen to leave or not return?
How can newsrooms provide an outlet for reporters to discuss emotional health?
Are smaller editing staffs resulting in reporters make their own decisions (good or bad) about accountability story choices? How can reporters prepare for this shift?
Social and digital media are important for impact of accountability reporting. How can reporters fill the gaps left by reduced or inexperienced social media teams?
How can accountability reporters — especially those who write about politics — work around the real or perceived ideological biases of their news organizations?
How can cultural competence be encouraged and taught?
Would training specifically for time management be valuable?
Which reporters/writers/journalists do high-impact accountability reporters admire and learn from? Why?
The journalists who participated in the American Press Institute’s Accountability Summit are:
Stephanie Arnold, Philly.com
Stephanie is a print-turned-multimedia journalist who is the lead social media producer for philly.com. She is particularly interested in social media ethics for journalists, growing digital audiences, training, and studying analytics and trends. Previously she was The Virginian-Pilot’s first social media editor. With more than 16 years of combined newspaper and digital experience, she also has worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The News Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and Commercial Appeal.
Briana Bierschbach, MinnPost
Briana reports on public affairs, higher education, politics and other issues for MinnPost. She got her start in journalism covering city government and transportation for the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota’s campus newspaper. After college she covered the 2010 Minnesota legislative session with the Associated Press before joining Politics in Minnesota as a reporter. She has worked with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and Minnesota Premier Publications.
Troy Carter, Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Troy is a Montana native who joined the Chronicle’s staff in 2014. From 2001 to 2006, he served as infantryman in the 10th Mountain Division, including combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He received a master’s degree in political science from the American University of Beirut and a bachelor’s degree in the same field from the American University in Cairo.
Anjeanette Damon, Reno Gazette
Anjeanette is an investigative journalist focusing on narratives that drive the community toward solutions. She is currently the government watchdog reporter for the Reno Gazette, and previously worked as a political reporter and editor for the Las Vegas Sun. At the Reno Gazette, she also covered beats ranging from police to city hall to the state legislature and politics.
Tom Jackman, The Washington Post
Tom has been covering crime and courts for The Washington Post since 1998, after reporting on similar topics at The Kansas City Star. He helped lead the coverage of the D.C. sniper trials in 2003, and was the lead writer on The Post’s breaking news coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, which won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2016 Tom launched the “True Crime” blog which looks at criminal justice issues and important cases both locally and nationally.
Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald
Mary Ellen is Capitol bureau chief for the Miami Herald and co-bureau chief of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau. Before she became bureau chief for the Herald in 2004, Mary Ellen was Tallahassee bureau chief for Florida Trend magazine and also served as a senior writer for the Palm Beach Post. She was bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post from 1990-94. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Ricardo Lopez, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Ricardo covers all aspects of Minnesota politics, the state budget, the administration and state agencies for the Star Tribune, based in St. Paul. Previously, he was a business reporter at the Los Angeles Times where he covered the California economy, focusing on labor unions, ports, and agriculture. He began writing in high school, earning bylines in his hometown paper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. He completed summer internships with the The News Journal in Delaware, The Virginian-Pilot and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Lauren McGaughy, Dallas Morning News
Lauren covers Texas politics for the Dallas Morning News. Based in Austin, she focuses on higher education, money and politics, and the Office of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Previously, she covered politics for the Houston Chronicle and politics for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. In Washington, D.C., she was a reporter for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, where she focused on U.S.-Sino and U.S.-Korean relations.
John Micek, Patriot News/PennLive
John has covered Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call since 2001. He also writes and edits the paper’s “Capitol Ideas” blog, contributes to the newspaper’s “Pennsylvania Avenue” and “Lehigh Valley Music” blogs and, from 2009 to 2011, co-hosted the weekly “Politics as Usual” podcast. He’s contributed analysis to the Pennsylvania Cable Network as well as the weekly “Pennsylvania Newsmakers,” and “Face the State” public affairs shows. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Graham, who covers Richmond City Hall, came to the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2013. He previously worked as a reporter at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville and as an online producer at The Washington Post. He is a native of Lynchburg and a graduate of James Madison University and the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Brandon Rittiman, KUSA
Brandon has been a political reporter at 9NEWS since 2011, covering all levels of government in Colorado. He co-hosts and produces “Balance of Power,” a weekly politics and public affairs program. He also leads the “Truth Test” series, which twice won the national Cronkite/Jackson prize for political fact-checking. His coverage of the Aurora movie theater shooting was awarded a regional Emmy. Before moving to Denver, Brandon was news director for KUNR-FM, the NPR affiliate in Reno.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Jason spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, his work has appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and in the Riverfront Times’ music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter.
Jonathan Shorman, Topeka Capital-Journal
Jonathan is a state government reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Previously he was a statehouse and breaking news reporter at the Springfield News-Leader, and he completed internships at USA Today and The McPherson Sentinel. He graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.
Lee Tolliver, The Virginian-Pilot
Lee is a born-and-raised local of Southeast Virginia who started working at The Virginian-Pilot in 1976. He covers high school sports and outdoor sports and activities, including government regulations and environmental issues.
Kera Wanielista, Skagit Valley Herald
Kera is the education and crime reporter at the Skagit Valley Herald. Her dual beats include coverage of seven school districts, breaking news and ongoing crime stories. She previously worked as a communities reporter for Seattle’s KOMO-4 News and also has been published in the Ferndale (Wash.) Record Journal and the lifestyle magazine Bellingham Alive.
Jeremy White, Sacramento Bee
Jeremy is a reporter at The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau, covering the California Assembly and state politics. He reports and writes in-depth stories, blog posts and tweets about all aspects of politics, from budget battles to campaigns. He also has worked for the International Business Times, the New York Observer, Roll Call and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Clinton Yates, The Undefeated
Clinton is a senior writer at ESPN’s The Undefeated and is a commentator for WTOP, a D.C.-based radio station where he discusses everything from politics to pop culture. Previously he covered sports and blogged for The Washington Post. He graduated from Miami University.
An early version of this report was reviewed and augmented by a group of veteran journalists and accountability experts from around the U.S. We especially thank these people for providing important and insightful feedback:
- Michael Bolden, Knight Foundation
- Len Downie, Arizona State University
- Jill Geisler, Loyola University
- Marty Kaiser, Center for Journalism Ethics
- Kim Perry, The New York Times
- Connie Schultz, syndicated columnist
- Estizer Smith, Democracy Fund
American Press Institute staff members who also contributed to this report were:
- Tom Rosenstiel, executive director
- Jeff Sonderman, deputy director
- Amy Kovac-Ashley, senior newsroom learning program manager
- Liz Worthington, content strategy program manager
- Laurie Beth Harris, editorial coordinator
- Katie Kutsko, program associate
- Kevin Loker, program manager
- Meldon Jones, research associate