Small town, big news: The future of local journalism

JAWS CAMP 2012, JAWS CAMP blog l

By Sarah Angle, JAWS Fellow

Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Ganim sits down with award-winning journalist and JAWDESS, Judy Muller, to talk about how she broke the Penn State Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and what it’s like to do big stories in small towns.

In the beginning, I talked to anyone who would talk to me, Ganim says.  Only later, she found out many of those people lied, elaborately.

This was a crime story, Ganim says. At first it was just one allegation. But soon, the allegations were piling up.

“Up until the moment he was convicted, I thought he might not be convicted,” Ganim recalls.

In March 2011, Ganim’s first article just said that Sandusky had been accused of sexual abuse.

According to Ganim, there wasn’t just one big moment in the story; there were several. And of course, it wasn’t all roses and handshakes. She got a lot of hate mail. After all, her story was accusing a local hero of sexually assaulting little boys.

It’s difficult reporting in a small community, Ganim says. But, “true courage is born knowing you have to share the truth and knowing you have to face the people in your community.”

Ganim says, “As a crime reporter, you know if there are multiple allegations, there’s something there. Pedophiles don’t offend only once.”

To this day, Sandusky has never talked to Ganim. And along the way, she got a lot of doors slammed in her face. But she kept on going and gives a lot of credit to supportive editors who let her spend a little bit of extra time chasing a story that she believed needed to be told.

Q: What was it like when it became a national story? “There was a day in the beginning when I had 86 interview requests,” Ganim remembers.

“I had some really good and bad experiences with national media. CNN was great.” But one producer from another network told Ganim: “I just drove her from New York to talk to you; I need your sources.” Ganim flatly refused.

Q: How important was editorial support?

Ganim says she had solid editorial support from day one.  Her editors recognized it was an important story that needed to be told. But she also worked a lot of nights and weekends.

Q: Where does Sara Ganim see herself in five years?

“I don’t know where I see myself in five minutes!” she laughs. “I’ve always liked crime reporting; it’s really bad stuff but you see a lot of good come from it. I hope in ten years I’m still telling good stories.”

For more info on Sara Ganim and the Jerry Sandusky story, see this article in Glamour Magazine.

Follow Sara on Twitter @sganim

And visit her personal website: saraganim.com

Learn more about Judy Muller’s work and impressive career here.

And snag a copy of her latest book, Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns.