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Students join WAMU reporter in long-form storytelling

Posted: Feb. 5, 2018 | Tags: journalism

Reporter Patrick Madden talks about his work with student journalists in this short video.

American University graduate researchers/reporters help reporter Patrick Madden research, fact-check and gather information for stories, including “Assault on Justice,” published in 2015, which examined whether police were overusing the charge of assaulting a police officer in Washington. The story won Madden two awards in 2016, the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize and the Edward R. Murrow award from the Radio Television Digital News Association.

The students, who spend 10 hours a week at the Investigative Reporting Workshop during their master's program, gain experience reporting local news, creating impactful stories and learning how written stories also can work on-air.

Madden, who is a graduate of the master’s program at AU as well, recalled student Rachel Baye, who helped to report a story on the City Council’s practice of voting on contracts worth more than $1 million, then raking in campaign contributions from many of those same firms. Baye went on to become a Maryland politics reporter for WYPR public radio.

Madden now covers several beats — Virginia politics, opioid use and guns. He said the station, with more than 800,000 listeners, has one of the largest audiences of all NPR stations in the country, and is also the No. 1 radio station in Washington.

WAMU recently launched a year-long project on guns, partly in response to a story Madden and IRW students discovered in their research.

“We were looking at prosecutorial misconduct issues and why so many cases were getting dismissed,” he said in a recent interview, which led them to research whether the dismissals were related to the police department's efforts at getting guns off the street. WAMU and the Workshop expect to produce a package of radio and written stories in mid-2018.

Projects such as this didn’t always exist at the local NPR affiliate. The 10-year veteran said the newsroom has changed since he first started in 2007. He spent a year at the NBC affiliate, Channel 4, and C-SPAN before he joined WAMU.

When he first started, he said, the station had a “radio-first” mindset and produced newscasts at the top and bottom of every hour. But with the rise of the digital platform and new management at the helm, the station has shifted its focus to longer pieces, he said.

It’s important for each story to focus on the human impact, he said. His most memorable effort to weave a story's effect on people with in-depth reporting came last fall, when he wrote about a Maryland drug cop’s daughter who died from a heroin overdose. 

“It’s hard when you do investigative stuff,” he said. “Sometimes you want to focus on numbers and data and findings. But I think the key is to focus on the human element of every story, and to focus on the craft of storytelling.”

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