In an investigation published in 1972, the Omaha Sun, a weekly newspaper with not much money or staff, ferreted out the huge amounts of money Boys Town, a nonprofit to help at-risk boys, was collecting with its “he ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother” mass mailings, and how little was being used to improve the boys’ lives.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning package (“Boys Town—America’s Wealthiest City?”) demonstrated that the main ingredients for good journalism are a supportive publisher, energetic and determined reporters, and a commitment to exploring the full story. The series was not a “gotcha” moment; it was nuanced and fair and explored how approaches to child care and stewardship had changed over the years.
I read those stories when I was a medical reporter for the Detroit Free Press.
The Sun wrote an accompanying story about how it conducted the investigation, and I was impressed by the staffers’ excitement and decency and how they rented a special room for the reporters who were doing the story so they could keep it under wraps until it was published. The series made me realize that great journalism doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money and staff.