Investigative coverage is getting a boost

  • Article by: NANCY BARNES , Star Tribune Editor
  • Updated: April 18, 2009 - 10:12 PM

That's what people expect of their local paper. Here's how we'll deliver.

The newsroom of nearly every newspaper, TV station and magazine in America is smaller now than it was a year ago, the result of the deep economic downturn and fundamental changes in the business. That means, more than ever, that we have to find a way to stake out our priorities and stay true to our core mission.

For us, we know that's delivering local news and information 24 hours a day, and most importantly, finding the stories that you won't see anywhere else. Earlier this year, I wrote about the need for a stronger commitment to pure digging and investigative work; many of you wrote back to tell me that you expected nothing less of a metro paper. Indeed, it's the main reason many readers subscribe.

So even as this industry undergoes a painful transformation, we want to break more exclusive stories and write more stories that make a difference in the region. That means making tough choices about how we use the people we have. Over the last few months, we've identified some of our more experienced reporters and writers and have asked them to dedicate more of their time to investigative reporting, looking for the not-so-obvious stories in our communities. We've also asked them to tackle specific areas, so that the investigative reports come from a broad spectrum of targets. In addition, top editors will work more closely with state and county government reporters to help them identify and develop harder-edged stories.

In today's paper, you'll see some examples of the type of stories we want to bring to you more often. Reporters Jim Walsh and Dick Meryhew deliver an exclusive report on the FBI's investigation of the American Somali community and any ties individuals may have to terrorism back home. Investigators are trying to determine whether the shocking story of a Minneapolis man who went back to Somalia and blew himself up in a suicide bombing was an isolated incident or part of a much broader effort to recruit terrorists in our own communities. You'll also find a deeply reported story by Paul McEnroe and Tony Kennedy examining what went awry with a police corruption probe in Minneapolis.

These are just two of the many important stories unfolding around us that demand more answers. We also want to help you find out, for instance, whether government is spending your money wisely, if your money in a local company is well-invested, whether community banks are stable and safe, and whether your hospitals are treating you well.

To encourage readers and the public to help us, we are developing an investigators' page on our website where readers can find the names of reporters they should talk to, as well as our best investigative work.

I want to introduce these reporters to our readers, because we know that the best sources for great stories come from the community. I invite you to contact them if you know of problems in our community, or about wrongdoing that we should be reporting on.

Business and commerce: Jennifer Bjorhus (jennifer.bjorhus@startribune.com) and Chris Serres (cserres@startribune.com).

Health: Josephine Marcotty (marcotty @startribune.com) and Maura Lerner (mlerner@startribune.com)

General assignment, agriculture and Department of Natural Resources: Dave Shaffer (dshaffer@startribune.com)

General assignment, education and transportation: Tony Kennedy (tonyk@startribune.com)

General assignment and quasi-government agencies: Paul McEnroe (pmac@startribune.com)

Computer-assisted reporting and human-services issues: Glenn Howatt (howatt@startribune.com)

Whistleblower: James Shiffer (jshiffer @startribune.com), Pam Louwagie (plouwagie @startribune.com) and a reporter to be named. (Louwagie will also keep an eye on corrections.)

The whistleblower reporters work tips that come directly from the community. In short time, this has proven to be remarkably effective as a reporting tool, and as a way of connecting with readers. Thank you for your tips and, please, keep them coming.

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