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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, other markets


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Friday, June 30, 2006
SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, other markets

Winner: Jeff Hirsh, Jeff Barnhill, Eric Gerhardt and Dan Hurley — WKRC-TV, Cincinnati

By Chris Speckman

The results of WKRC reporter Jeff Hirsh’s investigation likely would have been easier to document in print. But with some ingenuity, he turned it into one of TV’s best investigative reports.

“These were difficult stories to do for television,” said Hirsh. “Lengthy paper trails and nonvisual subjects can be deadly. However, we turned these potentially boring stories into compelling TV … stories which were ‘humanized’ by showing the impact on real people — students, parents and teachers. … We were provided enough time on the air to give these complicated but extremely significant investigations the treatment they deserved.”

The reporter for the Cincinnati station examined the unsatisfactory efforts of several Ohio charter schools in his reports, each proving that the popular new alternative for education was a flawed institution, much like the public schools the charters were supposed to supersede.

“Each investigation exposed a different problem, in a different school,” Hirsh said. “But all three investigations had a common theme — inadequate charter school oversight, leading to a waste of taxpayer dollars and poor-quality education for charter school students.”

The first report chronicled how one charter school underreported the number of special education students to the state government so that they would be able to pocket more of the funds Ohio legislation allotted the school. The second reported how one charter school failed and then made an unimpeded move to another location to start anew. The last segment demonstrated how charter schools can be underprepared and often irresponsible with taxpayer money.

“These reports helped save Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars, while also putting the spotlight on chapter school abuses,” said Hirsh. “The charter school movement is quite significant nationwide, and the issues we uncovered … or at least issues similar to them … are likely out there elsewhere, too. Perhaps stories like these can be examples for others to follow.”

For any reporters who would like to try, Hirsh stresses the importance of doing your homework first.

“Try understanding special education law. Then try explaining it on television. I spent countless hours going over special education issues off camera with experts in the field so I could try to make sense of those issues for our viewers.

“Explain how the IEP differs from the 504. Heck, explain what the ‘Charter School Special Education Guarantee’ was in the first place. This was pretty daunting stuff … a lot more time just gathering background than is normal, even for an investigative report.”

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