As part of the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Journalism Project, Nieman Reports is featuring two articles about watchdog reporting. In the first, Deborah Henley, executive editor of The (Delaware) News Journal, writes about her newspaper’s many years of legal struggles in trying to obtain state computer records so reporters at the paper “can assess broad trends in the state’s criminal justice.” The legal case is unresolved—on appeal after a January 2003 ruling by the Superior Court—but along the way lessons have been learned that can assist other news organizations in similar quests. Henley passes on those lessons.
Jack Kresnak, who has reported on juvenile justice for 15 years for the Detroit Free Press, describes how he went about uncovering and telling the stories of missing foster children in Michigan and, in turn, held accountable Michigan’s Family Independence Agency whose job it is to oversee these children’s lives. His reporting followed news reports from Florida about a five-year-old foster child whom that state’s Department of Children and Families couldn’t find. Using his long-established sources in the child welfare system, and adroitly playing off related news stories in Michigan, Kresnak, at times working with another Free Press reporter, wrote more than 30 stories about efforts to find missing foster kids. His watchdog reporting on this story—and others—led to changes in how state agencies handle child-related issues.