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Before Reading

Finding Ideas

To set up a brainstorming discussion, use the chapter"s summary of news stories about the drug interdiction program before the "Tainted Cash "" investigation. Depict the I-95 drug interdiction program in a positive light. Talk about the drug war, public fears and the drug and cash seizure on I-95 by the drug squad"including Sgt. Bobby Jones" record-breaking cash confiscation in January 1992.

1. Generate a discussion about the drug squad"s practice by posing increasingly challenging questions about the fairness of the operation. Gradually steer the students into brainstorming conversation about ideas for enterprise stories concerning the seizures.

2. If class computers are available, tell the class to do a clip search of the Orlando Sentinel"s archives prior to Feb. 1, 1992, to compare their ideas with the coverage.

Getting Started

1. To show how an investigation can be conducted, let the class discover the trail themselves. Tell your students to pretend they are the reporters. The editor has given them a clip on Sgt. Bobby Jones" record-breaking cash seizure. Here is the assignment:

Take a couple of days to look into the cash-seizure process, find out how it works out on the highway and in the courts, maybe talk to a couple of defense lawyers and see what needs to be explored more thoroughly, if anything. Then let"s have a conversation about what you found and see where we need to go from here.

Ask the students to explain what first step they would take if they got that assignment.

2. Other than bringing a reporter up to date on what has been written about the drug interdiction program, how else can a clip search help in the reporting?

3. Reporters cannot express opinions, but stories can use tangible criteria that allow readers to judge the subject"s actions. After explaining in detail how the clips (again, as explained in the chapter) depict the drug interdiction program, ask the students to make a list of the objective criteria that might be useful in a story to help determine whether the program as depicted is right or wrong.

4. Although identifying records usually requires reporting, basic knowledge of the subject and the clips often reveal where the paper trail begins. What are pertinent public records that probably would be available if we determine an investigation is warranted?

Preliminary Investigation

1. Still trying to figure out whether an investigation should be launched, you need some detailed information about how the program works, something more than the general enforcement and court procedures that apply. What is the quickest and easiest way to get that detail without launching a full-fledged probe at this point?

2. In the exploratory stage, investigative reporters often have not decided whether to be open with the target about their suspicions or to work discreetly as long as possible. Instruct your students to pretend they are the reporters in "Tainted Cash"" and are making their first call to the sheriff"s information officer to seek an interview with someone who can explain the drug interdiction program from A to Z and provide statistics on cash seizures and arrests. Pretend you are the information officer.
Ask the class to figure out what neutral question they would ask to avoid raising the information officer"s suspicions that they were investigating the program.
Try a role-playing question-and-answer exchange with the class as long as it is useful, with you pretending to probe the reporters for hints about their motive or story angle, and the reporters trying to be discreet but still get a referral to the proper departmental authority on the cash-seizure program.
Should a reporter deceive the subject to keep the mission confidential?

3. The first interviews, even those in the exploratory stage, are critically important for many reasons. Discuss ways such a detailed explanation can be important in the investigation. What else should reporters try to accomplish with this interview?

4. During the interview with the agency representative, the drug interdiction program appears to be effective, fair and legitimate. It also appears that each cash-seizure case produces a thick file. Explain to the class that as the reporter on this preliminary investigation, you suspect those files contain a motherlode of information about how the program plays out in minute detail on the highway. Also explain that before a decision on whether to launch a full-fledged investigation, you decide you need to know more about the quality of the information in those files and the level of detail they provide before you can discuss this project adequately with your editor. Yet, you do not want to raise the department"s suspicions yet.
How can you get enough information about the contents of those files to allow you and your editor to decide whether a full investigation is warranted?

5. Discuss the pros and cons of the discreet approach versus the open approach during the exploratory stage of the investigation.

Getting the Records

Instruct the class to imagine that they are in the sheriff"s department discussing search arrangements with the department"s in-house attorney. She is explaining the legally confidential nature of some of the materials. Although you are expecting her to say she will have to screen each file to remove the confidential material, she makes a stunning offer: She is going to trust you not to look at the confidential material. You do not want to agree to that, because your preliminary investigation has revealed that you must have access to those confidential files. But ethics prevents you from lying. If you assent to her statement, you are obligated not to use those confidential records.
How do you respond without lying and without losing the opportunity to look at them?

Managing the Data

1. After explaining the preliminary findings derived from the exploratory stage of the process, discuss the best way to search about 250 case files.
Discuss how two reporters can divide up the work without sacrificing the ability to gather enough of the same types of information so that you can document patterns from which you can draw conclusions.
Discuss how each reporter, while recording the same types of information, can consistently and methodically record the unique qualities of each case.

2. Discuss the importance of managing massive amounts of information. Using what you have revealed of the case thus far, ask the class"either in class or as a homework assignment"to make a preliminary list all of the information that each reporter would draw from the files. In addition, ask each student to draw up a plan manually or with a computer data management system for efficiently recording, managing, tracking and analyzing the information on a daily basis. The plan should include a list of basic issues or questions that need to be addressed.

Thinking Critically

1. Early in the investigation, the two reporters decided that spending a night on I-95 with a deputy on the drug squad would be valuable, although they recognized that the deputy would exercise exemplary conduct in front of a reporter.
Discuss why such a ride-along is valuable in investigating a story, despite the fact that reporters know the deputies will put on a show that may or may not reflect the day-to-day routine accurately.

2. As the two reporters plowed through the files, they began to notice that the deputies repeatedly cited as an "element of probable cause" (preliminary evidence suggesting illegal activity) the existence of invisible trace amounts of cocaine on the money. Their affidavits repeatedly say that a drug-sniffing dog was used to detect the trace amounts of the narcotic.
Discuss with the class how a reporter should critically evaluate this element of probable cause.

3. How is investigative reporting like the study of history? How is any form of journalism like the study of history?

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