Commentary

This is what journalism should be

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

In 2006, a newspaper report that documented abuses of law and power in New York’s town and village courts helped birth New Mexico In Depth.

I recall being blown away by the depth of reporting in the New York Times’ three part series. The newspaper spent a year investigating and found, in its own words, “a long trail of judicial abuses and errors — and of governmental failure to curb them.”

Among those abuses was this story involving a woman from Malone, N.Y.:

“A mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, ‘Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then.’”

The newspaper also documented racism, political corruption, and ignorance of and disregard for the law. I was in awe of the work The Times put into the series.

Most striking to me was the newspaper’s willingness, in an age of he-said, she-said reporting, to do the hard work necessary to reveal serious wrongdoing and speak truth to power:

“The examination found overwhelming evidence that decade after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental legal rights. Defendants have been jailed illegally. Others have been subjected to racial and sexual bigotry so explicit it seems to come from some other place and time. People have been denied the right to a trial, an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence.”

Tackling big questions and complex issues

I remember thinking, this is what journalism should be. This is the sort of thoughtful, probative, fact-based reporting that helps people better understand the world in which they live.

From the moment I read the first installment in The Times’ series, I started thinking about how I could do such journalism in New Mexico.

Six years later, New Mexico In Depth is here.

I don’t want to overpromise: New Mexico In Depth has a limited budget, and projects like that 2006 New York Times series require immense resources. But when I read that series, I was inspired and knew I wanted to focus my energy on the type of journalism that tackles big questions and complex issues.

For New Mexico In Depth, that will often mean projects that take weeks or months to complete – and, hopefully, we’ll occasionally find time for a yearlong investigation.

Access to strong, thoughtful journalism

My colleague Trip Jennings and I are frequently asked what exactly New Mexico In Depth is going to do. If you’re familiar with the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, you’ll understand part. Like ProPublica does on a national level, we are going to be producing in-depth reports on issues in New Mexico.

We will focus some of our energy on conventional, hard-hitting investigative reporting, but we will also devote resources to exploration of systems and cultural issues as we seek to better understand – and help New Mexicans understand – our state and how we can improve it.

We plan to give our partner news organizations the first crack at publishing the reports we produce, then we will disseminate our work far and wide for publication by anyone. We want New Mexicans to have access to strong, thoughtful journalism regardless of where they live – or how they consume news.

In addition to English, we’re working to provide versions of our in-depth reports in Spanish and, when useful, other languages. We hope to produce radio and, perhaps down the road, TV versions in addition to print versions.

Partnering with other news organizations

But New Mexico In Depth is more than a couple of journalists doing reporting. We’ll partner with other news organizations to help their reporters dig deeper. The media is still struggling through the transition to the Internet, and many organizations don’t have the resources to devote to strong contextual and investigative reporting.

We’re currently building partnerships that will allow us to work with reporters at existing media outlets on large-scale projects. Our intent is to help give reporters time and resources to do more in-depth work. We expect that those who are already doing this will jump at the opportunity to do more of what they love. Others doing it for the first time will, we hope, develop new skills and find a passion for doing in-depth work.

In short, our aim is to nurture a journalistic culture that helps our state address the many challenges it faces in the 21st Century. We’re really excited about this opportunity.

  • veracity de vera causa

    Obviously, this new reporting venture is going to be wildly successful, hugely important, and unmistakably impactful. I see truths and revelations that will leave voters richer, the citizenry wiser, and the truth more powerful.

    Justice has a new ally.