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Watchdog on campus: Tips for investigating college sports

By Trisity Miller

Where there’s a college, there’s a story.

That was the theme of “Campus coverage: College sports,” a panel featuring Paula Lavigne, Jodi Upton, Jill Riepenhoff, and Brad Wolverton.

In recent years there have been several major stories involving college campuses, from the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State to the recent Jameis Winston rape allegations at Florida State. But wherever there are student athletes, panelists said, there are stories.

“Athletes at all schools have a particular talent of getting arrested,” said Paula Lavigne, an investigative and computer-assisted reporter at ESPN.

Lavigne cited several different locations to find data and documents pertaining to student athletes: campus police, city police, county sheriffs departments, jails, and municipal/county courts.

“You have to know what documents are titled to request them,” said Brad Wolverton, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lavigne advised reporters not to solely trust court documents. Many cases never make it to that level due to athletic notoriety.

For one case, Riepenhoff located every courthouse on the path former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor took during a trip. She searched for traffic reports after getting a tip about athletes and their family members getting expensive cars to drive. She found several arrest records that reflected speeding incidents that never went to court.

When asked how journalists develop sources on college campuses, Jodi Upton, senior database editor at USA TODAY, directed the crowd to look within the university to find someone who will speak out against an athlete, coach or department.

Lavigne also pointed to former athletes who may hold some sort of animosity toward the university or coaching staff.

“Some of the student helpers can be good sources from time to time,” Upton said.


Trisity Miller is a 2014 IRE Conference Knight Scholar. She is a student at Savannah State University.

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