Phoenix, Here I Come!

December 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Color me excited. In about two weeks’ time, I’ll be in Phoenix, Arizona, where it is 66 degrees and sunny.

Follow me as I live blog from twitter @

That’s exciting news for several reasons, the top one being the current nor’easter which is dumping an expected half foot of snow right here in New York City as I type. The same storm already staked its claim on the south this past Christmas weekend.

Winter weather woes aside, my trip to Phoenix will not simply be an opportunity to defrost and take in the sights. I’ll be one of 75 student participants in IRE’s 2011 Campus Coverage Project which will be hosted by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in downtown Phoenix. The 3-day-long conference will feature training and tips from some of the top investigative reporters in the country.

As a staff reporter and copy editor for my campus news site, The Stony Brook Independent, I’m anxious to start implementing as much I can from the conferences to my staff’s local coverage of Stony Brook University and the local Long Island area.

Guest speakers are set to include Manny Garcia from The Miami Herald and its sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, IRE’s  executive director Mark Horvit, and Ron Nixon from The New York Times.

I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the training programs they have lined up for us, which include computer-assisted reporting sessions and budgetary analysis workshops.

Check back here for more updates as I’ll be posting as much as I can during January 6-9. I’ll also be live blogging via twitter @ jiejennyzou with the hash tag #ccp2011 (or something similar along the lines to this).


Sebastian Rotella: ProPublica

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment


From drug-fueled violence along the Mexican-U.S. border to uncovering global terrorist networks in the Middle East, reporter Sebastian Rotella has probably seen it all.


The ProPublica senior reporter spoke recently as a guest at one of my journalism classes. It was both sobering and uplifting–sobering because it further elucidated the shaky state of investigative journalism, and uplifting because his career represents my ideal prospects for the future.

Rotella worked his way through the ranks as a copy clerk in Chicago, eventually making his way to a stint at UPI, and later to the Los Angeles Times, where he spent much of his 23 years at the paper as an international correspondent with an investigative edge.

He still works on the hard-hitting, international stories that have built his career–only this time from the web. As a senior reporter at ProPublica, Rotella can continue the long-form, in-depth style of journalism that was once the crown jewel of major dailies.

ProPublica, a non-profit website dedicated to investigative journalism and funded by the Sandlers (banking industry), became the first online-based news source to win a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for a piece on medical treatment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The site is also unabashedly web while playing nice with print.

Indeed, as Rotella pointed out, much of ProPublica’s success has to do with its symbiotic relationship with traditional media [listed here], which significantly broadens the readership of what would otherwise be a primarily web operation.

It’s symbiotic because ProPublica gets the circulation that major dailies can provide, and in turn, newspapers and other outlets can get investigative reporting on the cheap–or rather, for free. [See their interesting “Steal our stories” clause here.]

As newsrooms continue to tighten their already narrow waists, whittling down staff and quality–expensive and time-consuming investigative reporting has also received the heave-ho.

But other than that, the transition to web hasn’t been all that big of a change for Rotella, who said that he still uses the same newspaper approach to investigative reporting, which emphasizes a multiplicity of sources.

It’s reporting that’s done with rigor. And sadly, it’s reporting that’s done less and less frequently.

Rotella, who said that he was growing “more and more depressed about the state of the paper [LA Times],” appeared more optimistic about the possibility of investigative journalism on the web. Specifically, Rotella said that ProPublica is “even better than the LA Times at its peak,” referring to both outlets’ trend of investigative reporting.

As a more than occasional reader of ProPublica, I was very much surprised to learn about how closely ProPublica works with traditional media in terms of free reign over publication of their articles in print or for broadcast.

It would almost seem counter-intuitive considering everything that I’ve been learning so far about the state of traditional journalism, but he brought up an excellent point about the clout and immediate impact that traditional media carries.

Come to think about it, big news doesn’t become big news until it’s carried on the evening broadcast or run in the city paper. Even websites seem to fall into certain credibility castes, with traditional media websites still leading the gamut alongside popular news blogging hybrids.

One thing’s for sure: while the current business model for journalism seems to be in need of a dire change, in-depth journalism itself seems better for wear.

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