Shooting by police officer seemed unusual from the first

By Kimball Bennion

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

Our coverage of the scandals unfolding at West Valley’s Police Department was the result of cohesive team effort from the editors and reporters on the Tribune’s justice desk.

I covered the initial police shooting of Danielle Willard as it was breaking on the afternoon of Nov. 2. I had covered officer-involved shootings before then, but we could tell from the beginning that the police were being unusually quiet about the details of this one — it took the police hours to even confirm the victim’s age and gender, let alone her identity. It became apparent early on that this story needed to be pursued for as long as it took.

As I developed a relationship with Willard’s mother and talked to eyewitnesses and neighbors, we eventually found out that Willard was unarmed and inside her car when she was gunned down. From then on, it seemed like each small answer we got was accompanied by 10 new questions, but we all set our egos aside and worked the story using our own unique resources and talents. The incredible teamwork involved in the reporting is really what made this story work so well.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.


Inquiry about oversight of police department showed it was lacking

By Nate Carlisle

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

I know from my training at Investigative Reporters and Editors that, when examining, an agency you should inquire as to what oversight it has. I found the civilian review board for the West Valley City Police Department, but the official in charge of the board refused to provide me with any statistics or discussion of how the board operates. I found this odd and inquired with experts in the field as to how other civilian review boards operate. I found, among other things, West Valley City’s board did not publish statistics, announce its meetings or have independent members the way other boards do.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Coverage of police problems wins DFMie for Salt Lake Tribune

The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of problems in the West Valley Police Department won the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Editor Nancy Conway explained in her nomination:

When the Salt Lake County district attorney put out a press release March 20 that said it was dismissing 19 cases because of problems involving a police officer, The Salt Lake Tribune saw the tip of an iceberg.

The officer came from Utah’s second-largest city, West Valley City, where the police department had been called into question several times recently and the chief had just retired. For Tribune reporters and editors, it suddenly cast several events in a new light, including a drug stop in which this officer and another shot and killed a woman in the car.

In the month since, The Tribune has reported that the FBI is now investigating, that the city’s own police review board has little effectiveness and that another 69 cases have been dismissed. The revelations have shaken citizens’ faith in its police department as city political leaders worry they haven’t reached the bottom of it.

Led by editor Nate Carlisle, reporters Janelle Stecklein, Pamela Manson, Kimball Bennion and Michael McFall continue to press this story on multiple fronts.

Judges applauded the project:

A news organization can inform, enlighten and entertain. But it serves no higher purpose than serving as a community watchdog. Citizens can be “wary” of their local police department. Review boards have their place. But a news organization has the resources to drag questionable practices, procedures and ethics into the light. This series is a good example of watchdog journalism, starting with the astute reading between the lines of the original press release.

Another judge:

My choice for the Colorado/Utah area is the Salt Lake Tribune’s watchdog efforts with the West Valley City Police Department. This is the type of news that television just can’t give you. It was a complicated and difficult story to uncover and the Tribune reporters did an excellent job of research and writing. This is something the entire newspaper industry can be proud of.

And another:

Nice team effort here and good reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune staff as they followed the twists and turns of this story and dug in to get answers from officials.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Santa Cruz Sentinel wins DFMie for coverage of police shooting, funeral

The Santa Cruz Sentinel won the March DFMie for the Northern California cluster for its coverage of the funeral for two police officers and for continuing coverage of their shooting.

Editor Don Miller explained in the nomination:

Coverage of the event included moving video, a slide show that generated more than 300,000 page views – stories on the procession, an editorial, sidebars and coordinated coverage with the Mercury News.

Ongoing coverage of the shooting, especially with regard to the shooter, is featured here, especially good reporting from Jason Hoppin in uncovering the trail the shooter took to Santa Cruz.

Judges applauded the coverage:

I felt the stories were compelling and very thorough. It’s tough to get that personal when a story involves so many people, but I really felt like I learned a lot of those detectives, their families and that community through these pieces. I was also impressed with some of the online features and visual work that added to this moving story.

Another judge:

Certainly, the story from the memorial service for the two cops was thorough and well done, but as a whole, the coverage was outstanding. It’s hard to single out any single reporter as it seems to have been the work of a team that knows what it’s doing. The stories about the background of the shooter were particularly good, combining to provide a very good portrait of a dangerous and dangerously disturbed person. Excellent work by everyone involved.

And another:

Any time there is a funereal for law enforcement officials, the ground is fertile for compelling detail, photographs, and video. In the Santa Cruz case, it was magnified because it had not happened, the killing of a police officer in the line of duty, since the department was formed in 1866. This story, with its extraordinary attention to so much detail, was full with the larger-than-life description this funeral deserved and got. It runs smoothly throughout, capturing the true essence of a community’s anguish, and bringing readers right into their sorrow.

A slide show with 300,000 views illustrates the kind of powerful interest there was in this story and the paper used excellent judgment in putting in up for all to see. The video, too, is a more than excellent example of how once just newspaper organizations can now do, with intensity, what television thought was its domain only. A nicely-turned package indeed.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel used to be part of the Bay Area News Group and continues to function as part of BANG for business purposes. The newsroom operates as part of the Northern California cluster, though, and competes in that cluster for DFMies.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Northern California cluster of Digital First Media.

Police shooting coverage involved enterprise reporting, coordination of photos and videos

By Christina Gullickson

Digital Producer, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Photo Gallery: As soon as I started my shift, I began saving photos into a SmugMug gallery and posting through our Media Center to capitalize on SEO. At the time, these included photos our reporters and photogs posted via Twitter (with rewritten tweets for the captions) or emailed in, and a few user-generated photos from the community. Later, as edited photos started rolling in from our photographers, the San Jose Mercury News and the Associated Press, I and Copy Editor Kalin Kilping coordinated to make sure those were added without duplication since our MediaServer system pulls them all into the same place. The photo gallery has generated more than 300,000 page views.

Social: On Twitter, all reporters and photographers were tweeting using #scpd as well as #scsnews, which feeds through to our home page. Deb Petersen of the San Jose Mercury News stepped in and also curated much of this into a live blog, which was a huge help since we were short staffed by two people. On our @scsentinel account, I retweeted our staff and trusted community members as well as other media outlets that were covering the funeral. Stories autoposted to @scsentinel as soon as they were published, and I tweeted the main bar again as it was updated — plus some additional promo on the obits our staff had written about the officers. On Facebook, I re-shared photos the community was posting on our wall or tagging us in, as well as sharing stunning shots from staff photographers.

Video: Kirby Scudder, a columnist and community partner at the Daily Muse, quickly put together a touching video of the procession, which I linked out to around midday and shared on social channels. Photographer Kevin Johnson put together a video of the funeral as a whole, which was posted later that night.

Stories: City Editor Julie Copeland edited a flood of stories from our reporting staff. These covered the local gatherings, as well as the procession and the funeral in San Jose. She updated the funeral story live, writing while watching the broadcast and posted stories as they were filed from the field or in the office. Jason Hoppin’s work on uncovering the background of the shooter, and his military connections, raised questions regarding their handling of the case. One of the most read stories from our coverage was on Leon Panetta’s statement at the service. That story was written up by Josh Richman from BANG – another example of the way we collaborated during the day.

Additional elements: Copy Desk Chief Brian Pifer created a 640 px free form with a huge headline that dominated our home page, linking to pertinent stories and photo galleries below (we had a good response to this from readers). Under that, the homepage display included our top story, our top 10 news feed, and a long block of links of all our coverage of the shootings (including memorial guestbooks and how-to-help links), which I updated throughout the day. I also started a package for the day’s articles, and created and added 640 px Media Center freeforms with links to the tops of article pages to generate more traffic to the Media Center gallery.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Northern California cluster of Digital First Media.

Coverage of rape case and bullying wins DFMie

Reporter Jessica Glenza and Co-Managing Editor Tom Cleary of the Register Citizen win the March DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media. Their coverage of rape charges against two Torrington High School football players, and subsequent bullying of the 13-year-old girls named in the case, drew national attention.

Connecticut Editor Matt DeRienzo explained the story in his nomination:

On the heels of the infamous Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, Jessica Glenza investigated rape charges against two Torrington High School football players. Co-Managing Editor Tom Cleary scoured high school student social media accounts and found that the two 13-year-old girls who were the victims in the case had been systematically bullied by classmates who were defending the alleged rapists. The girls were called “whore” and “snitch” in tweets and blamed for “ruining the lives” of the players.

Jessica’s first-day story touched off a national firestorm because: 1) the story uncovered that the high school’s football coach had allowed one of the accused rapists to play all season and be named MVP even though he was facing previous felony assault and robbery charges; 2) the story quoted the athletic director and superintendent of schools minimizing the situation and saying that there was not a behavior issue on the team despite a pattern of crimes and a hazing incident; 3) the newspaper published the bullying tweets without protecting the identities of the students who were calling the victims “whore” and other names, forcing the community to own up to the knowledge that a cross-section of kids, male and female, athletes, honor roll students, etc., were engaging in the bullying and victim blaming.

Jessica followed up with a shoe-leather audit of each Torrington public school’s compliance with the state’s bullying law, which uncovered widespread inconsistency and that the high school was not properly logging bullying complaints.

And wrote about more bullying tweets, victim blaming and minimization of the crime (one student compared statutory rape to jaywalking) even after the story made national news and sparked outrage.

The newspaper also published a continuously updated FAQ on the details of the case because of its complexity and the national attention it was receiving.

In the aftermath of The Register Citizen’s reporting on this issue, four additional Torrington High School students, for a total of six, including at least four football players, have been charged with rape. And the case has helped spark a national conversation about victim blaming and “rape culture.”

Most of the national news outlets who reported on the case, including, Columbia Journalism ReviewThe Atlantic, NPR, the New York Times and CNN, mentioned The Register Citizen’s role in the story. 

Judges praised the Register Citizen’s work:

As social media continues to rapidly evolve today’s digital world, I applaud The Register Citizen’s audacity in leveraging this medium to serve an important journalistic purpose that exposed the realism of cyber-bulling. The paper’s decision to move forward with publishing tweets from minors forced a much-needed discussion about this overlooked issue and propelled it into the national spotlight. Furthermore, this is today’s journalism at its best. As newsrooms across the country continue to grapple with media ethics when dealing with social media, The Register Citizen has established itself as an innovative leader in digital journalism.

Another judge:

Personnel matter. Open investigation. “We just have to report it by month.”

The number of excuses public officials gave for not talking or not handing over information about bullying almost equaled the number of sickening tweets aimed at a 13-year-old girl these stories uncovered.

The journalists at the Register Citizen did what great journalists do. They asked questions, and when the answers were disturbing — or when the answers were not forthcoming — they kept asking questions.

That can be all the harder to do in a small community, where the pressure to stop asking uncomfortable questions can be more intense because everyone knows everyone.

But because Jessica Glenza didn’t stop at the first couple of stories, which reported on the criminal charges and the abusive tweets, she found another story.

While national reporters were likely following the stories she’d already done, she dug deeper and found that schools weren’t following their own policies and/or the law.

Because they weren’t adequately tracking bullying, if they tracked it at all, they really had no idea how big the problem was. And in the long run, that’s an even bigger scandal than the football players and the disgraceful tweets.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media.

Torrington rape/bullying story came from checking databases and tweets

By Tom Cleary

Co-Managing Editor, Register Citizen

The story about rape and bullying at Torrington High School began as a typical police or court story. We received press releases from the police department about the separate arrests of two 18-year-olds on second-degree sexual assault charges, both for an incident that occurred on the same day. As we began to look into the story, we ran into our first obstacle, because the warrants were immediately sealed by a judge and no details were released by the police.

A little while after we learned about the arrests, we discovered that both of the teens were football players at the local high school, one of whom had won the Most Valuable Player Award in the fall. Jessica Glenza began crosschecking the current roster, and rosters from previous years, with the state’s judicial database to see if any other players had been arrested recently. We were also at the same time looking into a hazing incident that had happened in the fall, and led to the football coach’s resignation after the season.

Cross-checking rosters with criminal dockets showed us that other players were involved in felony robbery and assault charges, and that one of the defendants in the sexual assault case was honored as MVP while felony robbery and assault charges were pending.

While I was trying to find more information about the two teens, I located their Twitter profiles and began to read what they were saying and, more importantly, what was being said to them. We found a hashtag supporting the players and calling for them to be released from custody, and vicious bullying that was being directed at the 13-year-old victims.

Jessica and I began to build a network of the accused teens friends and began to look back through their tweets to find examples of the bullying. We took screenshots of those tweets and used those in the story.

As an editor, I was able to guide Jessica as she pieced together the bullying and discovered a larger problem within the football team and the high school where rape was being accepted and victims were being bullied. Jessica spoke to the former football coach, school officials, police and local sexual abuse support groups and was able to put together a much larger story, without having any details of the case, because it remained sealed until about a month after the story was published.

Social media, especially Twitter, was essential to telling the story. We would not have been able to uncover the bullying if we hadn’t searched through profiles and tweets. Since the initial reporting of this story using Twitter and cross-checking rosters with criminal dockets has become a routine part of reporting court stories about young adults.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media.