Monday, October 12, 2015

Lesson Learned? Pb, H2O, EAA & Investigative Reporting

Have you been reading about the scandal with lead [Pb] in the drinking water [H2O] in Flint? 

Maybe you have been wondering who is responsible for this mess. [Hint: start by looking at the emergency manager situation.]

Lead, in the periodic table.
Maybe you have have been wondering about the side effects of lead, and how they might affect a child's learning throughout life. In adults, lead can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility. In kids?
  • decreased bone and muscle growth
  • poor muscle coordination
  • damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing
  • speech and language problems
  • developmental delay
  • seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels
You know, there is a reason that kids are tested for lead when they go to WIC

(Side note: So yes, those kids with problems related to high lead levels could end up with being retained in third grade, if HB 4822 is passed with mandatory retention still in it, and if their learning delays are not diagnosed before then.)

Did you spend last year reading about the EAA, Detroit's "Education Achievement Authority?"

Maybe you wondered who was responsible for the EAA. Maybe you wondered about its staffing, its pay, what kids were getting taught... where the money was coming from, where it was going to...

How did we find out?

Eventually, our standard news outlets started doing a better job covering these stories (see, for example, this story). But in the the beginning it was just some activists (education activists in the case of the EAA, and community activists in the case of the Flint water scandal), and a couple of people who were willing and able to investigate these issues. 

Worth noting: These "investigators" were not found where you would normally expect them to be found (by which I mean, the traditional press.)

In the case of the EAA, a state representative, Ellen Cogen Lipton, spent time and money FOIA'ing important documents.

In the case of the Flint water catastrophe, the decision of the ACLU of Michigan to hire an investigative reporter, Curt Guyette, a couple of years ago, made the difference.

In both cases, the links between state-directed emergency management and problems that directly injure kids and their families are inescapable. 

But what's also inescapable is that non-traditional investigations, using tools like the Freedom of Information Act, and with the person or people driving the investigation not being traditional reporters, made these stories see the light of day. 

Lessons learned:

We need more investigative reporters.
If we don't get them from our traditional news sources (and sometimes we do), we need to turn ourselves into citizen investigators.
I am grateful--very, very grateful--for the individuals and organizations that have invested time, effort, and energy into uncovering these stories.

What stories do you think need investigating, that haven't been investigated yet?

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  1. I'm a big fan of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism after having worked with a staffer and fellow covering the trafficking of children into international adoption. (My former life as an ED for an advocacy group.) I hope concerned citizens would consider pursuing fellowships and accessing peers who are similarly committed to this work.

    1. Thanks Linh, I hadn't heard about them before.