Reporting really is a pretty simple business.
The reporting process has 3 main components: collection, collation, communication. Reporters collect information, organize it and then communicate to their readers, viewers or listeners what their organized collection of data means.
Collecting information, the first of the 3 parts of the journalistic sequence, also breaks down into 3 basic components: the reporter’s personal observations, what he or she can learn from sources, usually a mix of participants or eyewitnesses and credible observers of the story, and a database of contextual knowledge, usually in the form of documents.
This is why good reporters start reading in on a story as simultaneously as possible to when they go out to look at it and talk to people about it.
Here’s an example of a typical story. A young middle-manager has a personal crisis, and cracks up, and in his crash, creates some problems in his company. The company acknowledges his crash, offers some sympathy, and lets him leave and says it is cleaning up his mess.
This becomes a more interesting story because the young man worked for a well-known, publicly-financed organization, which makes his mess something taxpayers might care about, and because he says his mess was actually part of bigger and more systemic dysfunction.
This became a news story when the sources talks about it with a journalist.
The young man, Cody Hopkins, the former operations director of the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball team talked to our guest today investigative reporter Daniel Libit who has his own website nmfishbowl.com.
Hopkins’ crack-up, and the pile of debts, possibly misused UNM Athletic Department funds, and administrative errors had been reported, and more or less dismissed as a sad tale of “one bad apple.” What was missing from those early reports, mostly sourced out of the Athletic Department, was Hopkins’ version of events, which, as told to Libit, implicated a big pie full of tainted apples, unauthorized people allegedly using his Department credit card, allegedly lax oversight of the expenses and the spenders, and a corrosive fear throughout the UNM Athletic bureaucracy that a real audit would be a catastrophe.
A great start for a really big story for Libit, who has been hampered by the un-cooperation of most of those people Hopkins talked about, and hampered even more by the lack of documentation to prove or disprove the Hopkins version. But here’s the good news, for Libit and for us New Mexico taxpayers, because UNM is a state agency, it’s books are open for inspection. In those public records, there is enough documentation to show how bad the UNM Athletic Department’s accounting record is, and how the Department’s alleged overseers, the University, the NCAA, and the State Auditor’s office have all been enablers of this bigger mess brought to light by Cody Hopkins’ little one.
That’s a heck of a story…and it isn’t even the even bigger one we’re also going to address. The UNM Athletic Department spent between $33 and $45 million last year, and their various sets of books cannot agree on what the real number is. But the University of New Mexico Foundation – the school’s fund-raiser manages an endowment of almost $400 million, because the school and its regents conspired to make it a separate non-profit entity, when questions are raised about its management, its expenditures and its accounts, everything is off-the-record, hidden from public view.
It why, annual examinations of the operations of the State of New Mexico say, it’s Inspection of Public Records Act is one of the best-written in America, but, in practice, it’s among the most dysfunctional.
Daniel Libit is a journalist based in Chicago, where he writes about national politics for CNBC.com. He previously was a contributing writer to National Journal and a staff reporter for The Daily and POLITICO. In addition, he has tackled a wide expanse of subject matter, from college basketball scandals to panda reproductivity, for publications that include the New York Times, Washington Post magazine, the New Republic and the Columbia Journalism Review. Daniel also runs the online news website, nmfishbowl.com, which watchdogs the activities of the University of New Mexico and especially its Department of Athletics.