Byrne-ing down injustice, one exposé at a time

Peter Byrne is what most would call well-versed in a variety of fields. He has written books on quantum physics, and his interests include evolutionary biology, stock car racing and art. The one thing that combines this medley of subjects is his ability to concoct journalistic articles about them with his award-winning style.

Byrne launched his journalism career in the early 1990s when he began writing investigations of the San Francisco Housing Authority for the San Francisco Bayview.  The three-pronged series unveiled corruption within the organization. After winning the 1996 Investigative Enterprise Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the article, he decided to focus on investigative journalism.

“I was pissed off at the housing authority,” he said, explaining how his passion for investigative reporting began. “I only write exposés [when] people are treated badly, whether there’s criminals involved or some kind of shady activity.”

He has since exposed fundamental flaws in the San Francisco transit system, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s conflicts of interest and most recently, breast cancer over-diagnosis that has created non-existent breast cancer clusters in communities across the United States, among other scandals.

“It takes a certain type of person to be a investigative reporter. They have to have guts and they have to be courageous and they have to like documents and use public records acts,” said Byrne.

One of Byrne’s mentees, investigative reporter Matt Isaacs, worked with him off and on with several projects throughout the ’90s.

“One of his first publications was a little newsletter called the San Francisco Investigator, and I loved it and I just wanted to learn from this guy,” said Isaacs.

He went on to intern for Byrne and learn of his passion and ability to tell stories well. He stated that Byrne differs from other journalists because he is skilled at digging deeper into documents and finding key information that may be difficult to uncover for the untrained eye.

“He’s definitely an amazing researcher and he knows where to find documents and look for important pieces of information within those documents. He’s so smart in so many different ways,” said Isaacs.

Byrne believes there is a deficiency in investigative reporters nowadays for a variety of reasons. The reporter, who lives in Sonoma County, noted that Sonoma State University does not teach investigative reporting anymore, despite his insistence that they do so.

“People are taking classes in public relations so they can go work for public relations firms and I keep telling them if there’s no more investigative reporters they won’t need any public relations flacks,” he said.

He then mentioned that this type of journalism is also being killed by the corporate media. He explained the difficulty behind making a living as an investigative reporter unless the reporter works for someone who has an agenda already.

“I prefer to not have an agenda,” he said. “I prefer to try and find out what the actual facts are and report on that.”

With an emphasis on public records, Byrne encourages new journalists to keep their eyes open, read the media, learn how to spot and follow up with inconsistencies.

A true journalist for the people, Byrne “figures that if he can understand exactly how people steal money from the government and get away with it, or how reality-shifting media organizations owned by defense contractors are able to brainwash millions of people into working against the interest of the human species — then he can explain how it works to the reader,” according to his personal website.




Kyle Clark’s snark, wit make him popular in Colorado


“Colorado is kind of funny like that,” Kyle Clark said.

The 9NEWS anchor is talking about the propensity for natives of the state having disdain for transplants and newcomers.

“Disliking newcomers is a luxury that economically prosperous and viable places have,” he continued. “I grew up in the rust belt—a small town—and we would have loved it for someone to move in and like it there.”

Clark was one of those newcomers, making the jump from small markets near his home in western New York to a top-20 market in Denver as a 20-something in 2007.

“He was barely out of college, but he stood out right away as a reporter, because of his ability to research and study and write and be a great live reporter and challenge conventional wisdom and debate and search for more answers,” said fellow 9NEWS anchor Kim Christensen. “All of those things don’t typically show up in one person as a reporter.”

Despite being young for the market, Clark quickly earned the trust of his colleagues at the KUSA station, building a reputation for being strong enough to tackle tough or controversial assignments. In 2009, just two years after joining the news team, he won an Emmy Award for his coverage of a local forest fire.

Perhaps it was his love of craft beer or his seamless adoption of the Denver Broncos, two of Colorado’s favorite pastimes. Whatever it might have been, his popularity grew with viewers, too. There is even a twitter account dedicated to his pants.

“You can be a great live reporter and a really clever writer and then when you’re jumping into an anchor position, especially a primetime position, you have to win over some old-school type of viewers,” said Christiansen. “Because he’s different and original sometimes they don’t all appreciate his sarcastic sense of humor.”

His snarky personality landed him in the national spotlight when he gave a rare, on-air editorial in 2013. The segment, which could really be considered more of a rant, decried the long and proud Coloradan tradition of submitting photos to the local stations of patio furniture covered in snow. The video was shared nationally and popped up across the Internet.

But the rant wasn’t from an outsider.

“He is incredibly witty and funny and creative. He understands the quirkiness of the Colorado personality,” said Christensen, a native and former Miss Colorado. “People in Colorado do much more than stand at the door and take a picture of the patio furniture. That isn’t who we are and he seized upon that.”

Clark found himself as the subject of national attention once again in 2015 when an on-air interaction with weather anchor Kathy Sabine was shared across social media. Their back-and-forth banter which ended with Clark saying, “Well, please don’t ever touch me again!” appeared on The Tonight Show.

After eight years, Coloradans have grown immensely fond of Clark, and Clark of Colorado. He enjoys the stories that are uniquely Colorado, the narcotics anonymous group that was forced to leave their meeting place due to dispensaries moving in on either side of them in the strip mall.

As for Clark’s popularity, he is the 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. host of what is by far the highest-rated broadcast in the city. KUSA pulls in nearly three times the ratings during the 6 p.m. slot compared to the nearest competitor. At the 10 p.m., the station’s share is double their nearest competitor.

Clark’s role is not reduced to the anchor desk, though. He hosts Balance of Power, a political show airing Sunday mornings during election years. He earned praise from Marty Kaplan of The Huffington Post in an article titled “These Two Dudes in Denver Should Moderate All the Debates” for his moderation of a debate for a Colorado Senate Seat in 2014. The anchor is still active in doing investigative reporting with the “9 wants to know” team.

In short, Coloradans trust him for more than light-hearted entertainment.

“In the news business sometimes there is something that happens and you either sink or swim in a big way,” Christiansen said. “Those are times when our community has these days that have changed the fabric of our community.”

The Aurora theater shooting took place shortly after midnight on July 20, 2012. Twelve people were killed in the attack while 70 others suffered injuries. That was just 20 miles from, and 13 years after, the Columbine school shooting in 1999 that set off a wave of similar incidents in subsequent years across the country.

That morning of July 20, Coloradans awoke to Clark anchoring coverage of the event. He was still at the desk when they went to bed that night, 17 hours in all.

If nothing he had done before earned the respect of the old school viewers, the coverage on that day surely did.

“You want to compare it to a Cronkite moment,” said Christiansen. “You decipher that information and provide some level of comfort as you are with everybody in the moment and suddenly you are part of Colorado.”

Darren Sands: Sports Reporter turned Political Storyteller

The versatile multi-media reporter Darren Sands has always been a man on the ground, bouncing around from different types journalism, fully invested in the stories he writes. From broadcast to print, sports and political reporting with recent coverage of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and 2016 presidential race, Sands is defining what it means to a robust journalist.


Courtesy of Darren Sands via LinkedIn

The 32-year-old Boston native, grew up with news at the forefront of his life. From a young age, Sands remembers him and his father reading the sports sections of the newspaper together. “My dad was always into the news and always knew what was happening in the world,” states Sands. From there he peaked an interest in journalism

His Junior year of high school, Sands took that initial interest of sports into action. He began networking with people such as sports commentator Michael Holley of The Boston Globe, who he found mentorship in. Holley was doing something different in his writing that Sands found attractive.

“He was somebody that guided me along early along when I realized that journalism or reporting was something that I wanted to do,” says Sands.

As a student journalist, Sands determination to be a sports reporter became evident in his work. Michelle Johnson, a journalism professor at Boston University, says the fairly quite reporter was much of a self-starter from the moment she met him in the mid 2000s, at the National Association of Black Journalists student project convention in Indianapolis. His quietness would not hinder his determination in covering a story about the Colts football team according to Johnson.

“I’ve worked with young reporters who are timid about approaching people to get quotes,” says Johnson, “Darren never had that kind of hesitation.”

Sands also caught the eye of student journalist at the time, Jummy Olabanji during their projects at the convention in summer of 2005. He was a part of the print project and Oblanji the broadcast project. The word wizard, Oblanji calls him, would meet with her every morning to read the student published newspaper together.

“My first impression was that he was a fantastic writer,” says Oblajani after reading some of published stories for the convention. “I’ve always admired his ability to write great stories.”

His work resulted in work for and The Boston Globe.

As a selected reporter for The Brooklyn Bureau, Sands found himself interacting with more stories about public affairs in policy and education, thus being the stepping stone into a political reporting career. Because of this, it was no accident that Sands would soon find himself surrounded by the right people to land the position at Buzzfeed.

In spring of 2014 concluding in summer of 2014, Sands covered a story on Charlie Rangel spearheading him into political journalism.  This article for the New York Times Magazine became the springboard into political reporting to a position at Buzzfeed as the Washington D.C based politics reporter after the editor found his article.
“His versatility as a journalist is because Darren knows the power of good storytelling”, according to a quote from the NABJ Press release announcing his new position at Buzz feed. “His ability to reveal certain truths about the characters in his stories will make him an asset in a complex and changing political world.”

Currently Sands writes democratic politic stories, with a re-accuring theme of the intersection between the BLM movement and the 2016 political race. His experience in working with the BLM activist frontrunners, Sands says has not been easy. Sands has had to overcome the challenge of reporting on a continuously developing story that has yet to be defined. According to Sands, defining new movements has been a challenge to not only him and his storytelling, but also activist members.

” When you are covering something so new it’s very difficult to define, states Sands. “You are dealing with real time and real people who are fighting this fight, and it is one of those challenges that’s going to mean a lot in 30 to 40 years in how changed some things that were happening in our country that need change.”

Sands determination for success steered him to being one of the “lucky ones” he says. However he admits to not doing everything right. Now as an accomplished journalist, Sands wished he knew the work ethic that would be needed to succeed from his college career until now. He also believes that he was not as talented as other writers, but despite comparison continued to work on his craft.

Sands says that it is the continual search on how to have a cutting edge that makes the best reporter and writer. The young reporter has found much contentment in his career journey and accomplishments. He credits his success to being in the right places at the right time.

“You can only hit the lottery if you’re in the room.”


Emilie Shaughnessy’s Success in Public Affairs

Most people are afraid of making big changes and moving from Washington D.C. to Shaughnessy-1Austin, Texas definitely falls under that category. However unlike most people, journalist Emilie Shaughnessy, looks at these changes more like opportunities. She pursued a career as a reporter for the Community Impact Newspaper, which covers news in the Austin, Houston, and DFW metro areas. She has always had a passion for writing and claims it was no exception when she began reporting.

“I have loved writing for as long as I can remember. When I was in college I decided to try out the journalism track and I was hooked! There are so many different types of journalism, but each one allows you to educate, to spark discussion and to tell stories that otherwise might never have been told. I liked the idea of using my writing to make a difference,” Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Eastern University in Pennsylvania and Masters of Journalism from University of Maryland. One could say she’s been all over the map but she enjoys the traveling and meeting new people. While in graduate school she worked for the University of Maryland School of Public Health where she was a communications assistant and helped with marketing and public relations initiatives.

Shortly after, Shaughnessy landed a job as a Public Affairs Reporter for Capital News Service where she worked in a fast-paced newsroom producing multiple news stories per week. These stories primarily focused on the Maryland education system and were published by dozens of news organizations statewide. After her positive experience with public affairs Emilie Shaughnesssy had much to say about the matter.

“I think public affairs is really the heart of journalism. It delves into those issues that affect individuals on a daily basis. If you want my honest opinion I got started in public affairs journalism because it was one of the first jobs available, but I’m still reporting on local issues and local politics because I think hyperlocal news is the future of print journalism and I enjoy interacting with community members who care about what I write,” Shaughnessy said.

She then went on to become a staff writer for the Gazette of Prince George’s County where she covered cities in the Northern part of the county such as College Park, Laurel and Mount Rainier. Although currently employed by the Community Impact Newspaper Shaughnessy recalls one of her pieces printed by the Capital News Service in The Frederick News-Post. This piece titled, “Maryland health advocates push for higher cigarette tax” was released back in 2013 but was extremely relevant to the state’s revenue. The story was very informative and had sources such as the president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and the delegate who first proposed the bill. She had statistics that let the public know due to the $1 tax increase on cigarettes the youth and adult smoking rates had reduced and the states revenue had increased by $126 million in just one year. Shaughnessy was also able to find a dozen of health organizations supporting the study such as AARP and the American Heart Association.

Now when asked about her favorite story she had worked on, she claimed it was hard to choose since she had written hundreds of articles. One story she recalled was about the rising trend for “flipping” (quickly buying, renovating then selling) homes in parts of Maryland. A trend that has quickly gained popularity and has even been made into TV shows because of it’s success, was now sweeping the cities of Maryland. One county in particular had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and local real estate experts tied this to the flipping trend. She enjoyed working on this piece because it involved talking to national experts, analyzing lots of data and none of their competitors had the story.

Shaughnessy has not only written public affairs related articles but business articles and general local stories as well. When asked what she enjoyed most about being a reporter Emilie Shaughnessy had no hesitations, she knew right off the top of her head.

“The best part of my job is getting a behind-the-scenes look at topics that readers might not have the time or ability to investigate themselves. I make all kinds of connections, from politicians to entertainers to business-owners, and am constantly learning something new,” Shaughnessy said.

She has treasured her time at the Community Impact Newspaper and is working hard to gain a higher position. Shaughnessy looks forward to working on more investigative and enterprise pieces and continuing on to an editor or managerial role in the future—perhaps at her own publication.


Jessica Garrison: BuzzFeed’s ‘happy warrior’ investigates with integrity

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.

jessica garrison

Photo Courtesy of Twitter

“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.


garrison award

The American Society of Magazine Editors live tweets the Ellie Awards last Monday night, announcing Jessica Garrison’s win alongside her BuzzFeed colleagues, Ken Bensinger and Jeremy Singer-Vine.

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.