BuzzFeed, Harvard’s Nieman Lab recognize 2019 ‘Seeking Conviction’ series

Good journalism is important without accolades, but recognition certainly doesn’t hurt. I was excited when I learned that both BuzzFeed and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab recognized the 2019 ‘Seeking Conviction‘ series produced by Carolina Public Press. I was invited to help contribute to this important project earlier this year.

The series, ‘Seeking Conviction: Justice elusive for NC sexual assault survivors’ was a statewide partnership between Carolina Public Press and almost a dozen other news organizations and individual contributors.

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Praise for ‘Seeking Conviction’

Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, wrote a piece for Nieman Lab on how charitable donations can support journalism. In it, she mentioned the ‘Seeking Conviction’ series.

“Collaborative journalism is a powerful and effective way for news outlets to break major investigative stories, to hold power to account and to reach diverse audiences. Local collaboratives can be especially impactful. Consider the work of Carolina Public Press: Earlier this year, it and close to a dozen media partners produced the series Seeking Conviction, which investigated problems with sexual assault prosecutions in North Carolina. You have to read the series to understand the kind of incredible journalism they produced. As a result of the work, the state legislature there has taken up several proposals and, in November, the governor signed bills that “modernize sexual abuse laws as well as strengthen enforcement and protection for children who have been abused.”

— Stefanie Murray, Nieman Lab (emphasis mine)

BuzzFeed News contributor Joshua Stearns also listed ‘Seeking Conviction’ in, ‘Opinion: 24 great local news stories from 2019.

Carolina Public Press led a statewide investigative collaboration with ten other media partners examining the low rate of convictions for sexual assaults. CPP analyzed more than four years of statewide court data and held forums around the state. As a result North Carolina unanimously passed sweeping sexual assault reforms that closed decades-old legal loopholes in how the state defined and prosecuted rape.

— Joshua Stearns, BuzzFeed News (emphasis mine)

Stearns chose the 24 stories from a list of over 100 chosen by the Institute for Nonprofit News, which listed the series as one of the best in the criminal justice category.

Carolina Public Press led a statewide investigative collaboration with nine other media partners examining the low rate of convictions for sexual assaults. CPP generated story ideas and sources by analyzing more than three years of statewide court data and hosting three listening sessions in different parts of the state. CPP then tied together the multimedia reporting by the partners and conducted three forums around the state to discuss the issues that arose from the reporting, creating momentum for legislative solutions.”— Institute for Nonprofit News

Several hands touch.
The “Seeking Conviction” collaborative project with Carolina Public Press helped highlight low conviction rates in some North Carolina counties. It also showed dangerous legal loopholes that have directly affected victims of sexual assault. The series included voices from many areas of the legal process.

How I became involved

The managing editor, Frank Taylor, emailed me about working on this project back in February.

(I’d done work for them before. The executive director had reached out to me the previous year asking if I’d be interested in being a contributor. I ended up writing about areas in central North Carolina that were recovering from Hurricane Florence and the benefits of a FEMA deadline extension for some affected by the hurricane. I also wrote about two NC school districts with large racial achievement gaps.)

Before Frank emailed me, the team at Carolina Public Press looked at each county’s rates of conviction in sexual assault cases. They found that I lived in/near some of the counties they were most interested in and asked if I could interview people for the project.

There were three counties on my list that I had multiple connections in, so I worked on those. One was Anson County, where I was a staff reporter for several years. I reached out to several individuals and organizations, including police departments, sheriffs’ offices, victim advocacy groups and the district attorneys’ offices.

Some never responded. Others talked with me over the phone and/or via email. Two people in my county were willing to meet with me over lunch to talk about the challenges and successes of pursuing sexual assault convictions in their area.

By the end of the series, I’d contributed to ‘Analysis: NC convicts fewer than 1 in 4 sexual assault defendants’,  ‘Sexual assault suspects face little prospect of conviction in some counties’, ‘Questions of consent can make NC sexual assault cases tough to prosecute,’ and ‘North Carolina working to erase biggest rape kit backlog in nation.’

I was one of multiple contributors for the first three articles listed and shared a byline with Kate Martin, the lead investigative reporter at Carolina Public Press, for the fourth.

The result

The entire series is eye-opening.

At the end, Kate was able to write this gem: ‘Governor signs NC sexual assault reforms into law.

I highly recommend setting aside the time to read through ‘Seeking Conviction.’

I also want to thank everyone who spoke with me and the other contributors so that Carolina Public Press could do this project.

‘Seeking Conviction’ was an incredible project to get to work on. We knew it was important before it was published. I’m thankful that Carolina Public Press and the other contributors are being recognized. This series got attention and promoted action. I’m glad I got to be a small part of it.

What projects have you worked on that are important to you?