Pulitzer winner Stith offers reporting tips
By Erin Moseley

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Pat Stith was the special guest speaker at a session sponsored by Elon University's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists Sept. 5. He also visited with students in Michael Skube's Advanced Reporting class. Details...

In conjunction with Elon's Sept. 5 Pulitzer Prize panel discussion, the Society of Professional Journalists invited Pat Stith, an investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner for the Raleigh, N.C., News and Observer, to discuss investigative reporting and civic responsibility with communications students.

Stith served as a Navy journalist aboard heavy cruiser Los Angeles from 1960 to 1962, and he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1966 with a B.A. in journalism. After graduation, he worked at the Charlotte News, covering city hall, police and courts. In 1971, Stith began his work for The News & Observer, developing an interest in the intricacies of North Carolina's state government.

Stith was an early and enthusiastic advocate of computer-assisted reporting (CAR), and in 1993, he was chairman of the IRE's first national CAR conference.

"Good research is collaborative and imaginative," said Stith. "CAR can add depth, texture and richness to any story."

Every record in N.C. is public, he said, unless there is a law that states otherwise. "As journalists, the real danger is in failing to push our case when we are refused public records," he explained. "It is unnecessary to censor our requests because there will always be plenty of people out there who are eager to do that for us."

Investigative articles Stith has written or collaborated on have resulted in the enactment of more than 20 state laws, including a rewrite of the state's worker compensation act.

In 1996, Stith and a News & Observer reporting team won a Pulitzer Prize for "Boss Hog," a series of stories on how massive high-tech hog farms are polluting the air and water in North Carolina.

"With the help of CAR, we were able to reveal how the powerful hog industry convinced the government to go easy on environmental controls for the sake of profit," said Stith. "I developed a mind-set. I knew that the information I needed was out there somewhere, and I was determined to find it. Being factually correct is the minimum standard. Journalists should stop at nothing to attain the truth."

Stith's research and reporting have also led to the release of a man wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and the imprisonment and/or removal of numerous public officials, including a school superintendent, members of the State Board of Transportation and top officials of the State Department of Correction.

"The key to investigative reporting is not your batting average, but your number of hits," said Stith. "Just like the lyrics of that old song, you have to 'know when to hold and when to fold.' If you aren't getting anywhere with a story, dump it and move on."

(Erin Moseley is a senior majoring in Journalism at Elon University.)

 

 

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Last Modified:  9/23/02
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