NYT’s Buettner discusses award winning investigative work
For freshman Tim Carrico, having Russ Buettner guest lecture in his “Future of Journalism” class was inspiring.
“I believe it’s an incredible thing to have a New York Times reporter speak to a group of aspiring journalists,” Carrico said. “Coming from a small town in southern West Virginia, I never dreamed I would be able to listen to such a well-known reporter. Russ’s presentation was phenomenal. He was able to connect with the class.”
Buettner specializes in investigative and computer-assisted reporting for the New York Times. He came to Scripps to talk to students about his career and his recent series, “Abused and Used.” The series, written with Danny Hakim, investigated deadly flaws in the state of New York’s system for caring for the developmentally disabled. The series won the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Buettner said he learned of the story because of a father who fought for change after his son died.
“Most of these things don’t have a light bulb moment,” Buettner said. “They start with a seed of information.”
Sandhya Kambhampati, the OU SPJ President, met one-on-one with Russ to get his advice about a computer-assisted reporting story she is working.
“Seeing his work and what changes reporters like Russ can create really inspired me,” Kambhampati said. “It’s meeting reporters like Russ that make me even more eager to really dive deep into data and find out why things are the way they are.”
Buettner said investigative work can be difficult and requires a “constant, harsh evaluation of where you are.” He also encouraged future journalists to learn multimedia skills. Going forward, journalists must combine the historical strengths of institutions like the New York Times and new media, according to Buettner.
When asked what motivates him as a journalist, Buettner said he wants some good will come out of his work.
“One of the great things about journalism is that you live close to the bone of life, encountering things you’d never encounter otherwise,” he said.
That message resonated with freshman Allison O’Brien, who has a cousin with severe Down syndrome.
“The video about abuse to developmentally challenged children in care facilities in New York really affected me emotionally,” she said. “I can’t even physically imagine how the treatment of the children went undiscovered for so long. It pained me to hear about these things happening secretively, but it was truly inspirational to know that journalists doing their job were able to bring this story to light and expose the harmful environments that had gone undiscovered for so long.”
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