The quest for uncovering truth and engaging the public in issues that matter is an adventure that BuzzFeed senior investigative editor Jessica Garrison can’t get enough of. Juggling the roles of reporter, writer and editor, Garrison enjoys doing a little bit of everything for the digital news giant’s emerging investigative unit.
“You are paid to find out things nobody knows, and that nobody really wants you to know,” said Garrison. “And that’s fun. It’s interesting and challenging.”
Garrison’s passion for courageous reporting was honored Feb. 1 at the American Society of Magazine Editors 50th anniversary Ellie Awards, held at the New York Grand Hyatt. Securing BuzzFeed’s first ever ASME award, Garrison received recognition in the Public Interest category for her July 24 piece “The New American Slavery” and her Dec. 1 piece “All You Americans Are Fired.”
Ben Kensinger, Garrison’s co-reporter on the latter story, expressed his excitement upon being honored for their investigations into the H-2 guest worker program’s displacement of American employees.
“It’s so great to see her get the recognition she deserves,” Kensinger said, pointing to Garrison’s strengths of disarming conversational interviews, strong story structure and eye for detail.
From toxic waste to the representation of women in political roles, Garrison has tackled a diverse spread of serious issues over the span of her journalistic career. Despite the sobering and often disturbing content of her investigations, Garrison’s former colleague and LA Times investigative reporter Kim Christensen holds that Garrison exudes positive energy.
“She’s kind of the ‘happy warrior’ type of investigative reporter—whip smart, fun, and funny,” said Christensen, who collaborated with Garrison during her employment at LA Times prior to her 2014 move to BuzzFeed.
Garrison and Christensen worked together on a wide variety of in-depth pieces, including a 2013 investigation on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. While Christensen joked not to let Garrison choose the lunch spot (referencing a run-in with the “worst Chinese food ever!”), he pointed to her role as a driving force in the investigative process and praised her journalistic dexterity.
“She has a wide range of talents and interests. She can do pretty much anything,” said Christensen. “She’s really top notch.”
LA Times writer Ben Poston, who worked with Garrison and Christensen as the data reporter for the toxic waste case, believes Garrison’s unwavering enthusiasm is key to her success in long-term investigative work.
“Jessica is an energetic, smart reporter who has a good nose for news. She’s fun to work with,” said Poston. “She brings joy to the craft, which is really important when you’re working on investigative projects that can take months to report, write and edit.”
At the beginning of her Berkeley-to-BuzzFeed journey, Garrison never expected to end up in a full-blown journalism career. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in history, she landed a job writing for a small weekly newspaper in Pasa Robles, California. From there, she worked for two different magazines in New York before getting hired as a reporter for the LA Times.
After about 15 years with the Times, Garrison made the move to BuzzFeed’s investigative unit, looking back fondly on her memories of working for the prestigious Los Angeles newspaper.
“It’s a wonderful place to work, but I was ready to do something different,” explained Garrison.
Stylistically speaking, Garrison didn’t experience a drastic transition between the two publications, but she enjoys the freedom to write longer pieces for online copy without the column inch restrictions of her print days. Looking for untold story angles with some kind of stake for the public, Garrison hopes to shed light on issues that make readers think critically.
While expressing a fierce loyalty to the field of investigative journalism, Garrison expresses that the reporting process does not come without challenges. Investigative work and quality reporting, as Garrison has experienced it, is not about making friends. If a journalist is making one party happy with what they’re reporting, they’re probably doing something wrong.
“Just because everyone doesn’t like what you write, doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Garrison said. “It doesn’t mean it’s right, either.”
In her writing and reporting processes, Garrison verifies information and checks her personal biases and preconceptions to ensure truthful reportage of complex issues, citing the classic journalistic adage: “if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
Looking toward the future, Garrison doesn’t point to any specific aspirations for her career, seeking only to continue doing what she loves—investigating stories that are impactful to society.