The Columbia Journalism Review featured Professor Mark Poepsel as a media expert, when it came to the investigative journalism efforts of a duo,George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer, of the Belleville News-Democrat investigating unsolved rape cases. Although, the case had gone cold for law enforcement, for the pair of investigative reporters, it was just the beginning of a three-year odyssey to find out why so many rape and sexual abuse cases in southern Illinois were never prosecuted.
Their editor, Gary Dotson, a senior editor at the News-Democrat who has overseen most of the major investigative projects in the past two decades, said he tries not to encumber his reporters with deadlines. He also encourages them to write smaller stories that lead to more stories instead of waiting to publish big series.
“It’s unusual in a newsroom this size to find reporters who pretty much have carte blanche getting the time they need to work these investigations and write these stories,” he said. “I just try to stay in touch with what they’re doing and when I see it starting to come together and gel then we start mapping out deadlines and timetables.”
Mark Poepsel, assistant professor in the Mass Communications Department at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, said the Belleville paper is putting resources into the kind of reporting that makes it relevant to its readers. It’s unusual, he said. Most news organizations claim they don’t have the money to do investigative journalism. But Poepsel said it’s the only way for local journalism to survive.
“People can get the national and international news just about anywhere,” he said. “News organization should be doing more in-depth and investigative work. I just call it real journalism. It’s something really valuable to a community and something they aren’t going to get anywhere.”
But it’s not easy work. At the end of the day, when many of theirNews-Democrat colleagues are headed home, Pawlaczyk and Hundsdorfer often are just getting started.
“Beth and I will take off just as we’re leaving work and drive 150 miles to interview someone,” he said. “We work it 24-7 and you just got to go. It’s the nature of the beast. We find that talking to people, going to places, really does reward you.”