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What we're reading: Children, guns, environment stories humanize problems

Posted: Nov. 10, 2016 | Tags: climate change, Guns, health, journalism, reporting, Wisconsin Watch

Small illustration of a closed book.

Illustration by Sydney Ling, IRW


Sometimes, as both reporter and reader, news stories can feel a little repetitive. Another tragic shooting or overdose, leaving torn families in its wake. Another environmental disaster we may not be able to slow down in time. Another abuse of power, exposing biases, neglect or other shortcomings. 

While it is the responsibility of journalists to report the news, it is also our responsibility to discover the stories behind these trends. The investigative pieces below provide critical analyses of events dominating the current news landscape, and, importantly, shed light on the stories behind the headlines in the last year:

• Out of the shadows: Child maltreatment deaths drop, but suicide of 12-year-old shows holes in Massachusetts safety net 

In this ongoing investigation into the abuse and neglect-related deaths of children in Massachusetts, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting takes a closer look at who these children were and how the state handled their cases. The study includes babies born with drugs in their systems; dozens of children who died in beds or cribs in unsafe homes; and teenagers who take their own lives because they fear being abused in their homes. The 22 abuse and neglect-related deaths in 2014 marked a sharp drop from the previous year's 39 deaths — but the change in statistics does not present the full picture of how many children are being removed from unsafe environments, the investigation claims.

• After guns wound and kill, bills pile up for victims and society 

Wisconsin saw a 77 percent rise in gun-related homicides in 2015, according to this investigative report from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism about the toll gun violence takes on the wallets of victims, shooters, loved ones and those who have nothing to do with the nationwide problem. Altogether, gun violence cost Wisconsinites more than $2 billion in legal fees, medical costs and law enforcement protections in 2012. The costs — which amount to just over $500 per person in the state — just keep going up, but solving this crisis that has touched so many lives has not gotten any easier. 

• UNICEF cuts off funding to nonprofit linked to cult 

UNICEF will no longer fund two nonprofits focused on African agricultural development after a Reveal investigation found that the nonprofits had diverted some of their taxpayer funds to cult leaders. Planet Aid and Humana People to People were both found to be linked to Teachers Group, an ogranization that crtiics have likened to a cult. Millions of U.S. taxpayers' dollars to these groups never reached their intended targets, according to a UNICEF investigation carried out after Reveal uncovered the groups' ties.

'How's Amanda?' A story of truth, lies and an American addiction 

While not inherently investigative, this story from The Washington Post takes a deeper look at America's opioid problem by humanizing the complicated path an addict takes when attempting to get clean. The writer, Eli Slaslow, cites the statistics behind drug addiction — the hundreds of new addicts everyday, the thousands who die by overdose — but the article's true power comes from a family whose story humanizes the data. The narrative storytelling, rich with details and startling snippets of conversation, brings readers into the same sense of hope, despair, anger, fear and resentfulness the main characters are feeling. 

Critical reefs destroyed in poachers' quest for world's biggest clams

In this piece, wildlife journalist Rachael Bale examines the slow decline of one of the world's most precious resources, its coral reefs.  Bale's reporting focuses specifiically on reefs in the South China Sea, demonstrating how loss of the reefs would not only cause a huge economic hit for China — almost $6 billion, according to researchers' calculations — but how the decline in biodiversity would also have a major impact on the environment. So why is the decline, seemingly under the radar, happening so quickly? Bale's investigation exposes a profitable black market in which poaching of giant clam shells has accelerated the reefs' destruction.  

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