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Gannett bolsters watchdog work

By Doug Haddix, IRE training director

Attorney Herschel Fink brandished a copy of a $400,000 check from the city of Detroit – payable to the Detroit Free Press for legal fees in a public records battle involving former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. While large, the payment didn’t cover the newspaper’s full costs in its aggressive investigation, which led to the mayor’s resignation and 99 days in a county jail for obstructing justice and assaulting a deputy.

Still, the room of more than 60 Gannett reporters and editors burst into sustained applause. They had gathered earlier this week for a two-day watchdog workshop presented by IRE. Gannett partnered with IRE to present three watchdog boot camps in recent months in Detroit, Nashville, and at company headquarters in McLean, Va. More than 250 Gannett journalists from across the country attended the two-day workshops. Highlights, tips, links and running commentary are available on Twitter: #GanIRE. Kate Marymont, Gannett’s vice president of news, told participants at all three boot camps that powerful watchdog stories are key to the company’s continued success. “It’s what we do. It’s what sets us apart,” she said during the Detroit workshop. The boot camps featured IRE presentations on more effective use of the Web, social media, data and documents, quick-hit investigations and bulletproofing stories for accuracy.

In addition, Gannett attorneys led sessions on FOIA and public records. Advice on interviewing and developing sources came from Blake Morrison of USA Today, Brad Schrade of The Tennessean, and M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer of the Detroit Free Press. We’re looking forward to seeing more watchdog stories from Gannett newsrooms in coming months.

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