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Home > Publications > Quill > Brilliant Broadcasts


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Monday, March 3, 2008
Brilliant Broadcasts

Jon Marshall

As many television newsrooms reduce reporting staffs, it’s becoming harder to find good enterprise stories on the airwaves. That’s why we admire the following stories, which go beyond the hubbub of daily events to investigate wrongdoing and reveal important trends.

Into the fire

The most popular kind of smoke detector does a poor job of alerting people to slow-burning fires, Bob Segall of WTHR Channel 13 in Indianapolis reported in his “Deadly Delay” series. Segall revealed that ionization smoke detectors used in 80 percent of homes are good at detecting fast-burning fires but not as effective as photoelectric alarms at alerting occupants to deadly smoldering fires.

In addition to giving examples of people who died because their ionization detectors didn’t sound in time, Segall conducted tests to learn which kind of alarm would go off first when a couch caught fire. In dramatic footage, the ionization alarm went off 26 minutes after other kinds, well after the room was full of smoke and carbon monoxide.

In response to this investigation, Congress started considering legislation that would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to inform consumers about the differences among smoke alarms. www.wthr.com; click on “Deadly Delay” under the “13 Investigates” dropdown menu.

Hazardous cuisine

Reporter Dave Savini and producer Michele Youngerman of CBS 2 in Chicago exposed gaping holes in the inspection system for food as it’s transported to restaurants and grocery stores. Their “Filthy Food” investigation showed how trucks carrying meat are sometimes unrefrigerated, allowing beef, pork and turkey to thaw and become contaminated. They also found food products being shipped in minivans, pick-up trucks and the trunks of cars.

To make matters worse, the thawed meat often contaminates produce being shipped with it. In one instance, 30,000 pounds of turkey was left dripping in the summer heat for 6½ hours before being delivered without inspection to a food warehouse. cbs2chicago.com; click on “2 Investigators” on the left-hand menu for a link to “Filthy Food.”

Drugging children

PBS’ Frontline ran a powerful story by producer, writer and director Marcela Gaviria about the steep increase in psychiatric medicines that children are receiving. “The Medicated Child” explored the possible impact of drugs that are just starting to be tested on children. Gaviria also investigated why 1 million kids have been diagnosed with bipolar disorders, a 4,000 percent increase since 1996. The story included compelling examples of heavily medicated children. www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/medicatedchild

Spying on Mrs. King

Persistence paid off for David Raziq and Mark Greenblatt of Houston’s KHOU Channel 11, who worked for more than a year and a half to force the FBI to respond to their Freedom of Information Act request for the agency’s files on Coretta Scott King. Their “Inside the FBI’s Secret Files on Coretta Scott King” revealed that the federal government spied on Mrs. King even after her husband was assassinated.

Greenblatt and Raziq divulged disturbing details of the bugging, surveillance and harassment of the Kings and their associates by J. Edgar Hoover’s “Racial Intelligence Section.” www.khou.com/topstories/stories/khou070830_ac_scottkingfiles.85e64faa.html

Stolen baggage

Nearly 50,000 U.S. airline passengers have reported thefts from their luggage over the past three years, Chris Halsne of KIRO 7 in Seattle reported. In his “Access to Steal” investigation, Halsne found that nearly $40 million worth of property, including cash, cameras, jewelry and prescription drugs, was swiped out of people’s luggage once it entered supposedly secure areas of airports. Most disturbing of all, he showed instances when handguns disappeared within airport security zones. Halsne spent a year pushing the Transportation Security Administration to release the data showing how common these airport thefts are. www.kirotv.com/airports

Drugs and war

ABC News’ investigative team, led by Brian Ross, worked with six graduate journalism students to discover whether troops returning home after serving in Iraq are facing the same battles with drug addiction as soldiers did when they came back from Vietnam. For “Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs,” students Kate McCarthy, Donnie Forti, Angela Hill, Mansi Mehan, David Schneider and Robert Lewis traveled across the country to examine the accuracy of the Army’s assurances that drug abuse among ex-combatants isn’t growing. The five stories in the series are filled with heart-breaking accounts of soldiers slipping into addiction after experiencing the traumas of war. abcnews.go.com/Blotter/ComingHome

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