Must Read: A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist’s insights into investigative journalism
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, Manny García, shares his insights into the world of investigative journalism.
Manny García is the standards editor for the USA TODAY Network and one of my dearest friends (don’t hold that against him, lol).
You will remember, before being named the East Region Executive Editor for the USA TODAY Network — Manny spent 23 years as a reporter and editor at The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, covering many of South Florida’s most high-profile stories. He served on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, investigating voter fraud in a 1997 Miami city election and documenting the 2000 raid that resulted in Elián González reuniting with his Cuban father. During Manny’s tenure as editor of El Nuevo Herald, the newspaper was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2010 for its coverage of the Haiti earthquake, the first such recognition for a Spanish-language media outlet.
Without further introduction, here’s Manny’s story—written by the man himself.
Writing wrongs: Our investigative journalists do mission work
The USA TODAY Network’s reporters strive to provide accurate information that exposes corruption and enables readers to improve their lives.
Imagine if your daughter has been wrongfully convicted of murder, and no one cares. Your wife died during childbirth, and the experts now blame her medical condition. Or your dad, a decorated military veteran, is rotting in a nursing home, and the owners pay you lip service — because your dad is really a monthly paycheck to them.
These are the stories that our journalists quietly expose.
Journalism is mission work, an honest cause beyond our eyes. Like nursing, teaching and police work, it’s built on a foundation of accuracy, trust, wisdom, and character, not a billy club.
I’ve been a witness to the miracle of journalism for 28 years, and I am honored to be the next standards editor for the USA TODAY Network. I follow a dear friend, Brent Jones, now at The Wall Street Journal. I’ll use this space to share with you honestly, transparently, the good we do, as well as when we fall short.
First, let me tell you about me—who I am and where I’m from.
I live the American Dream. My family fled communist Cuba in the early 1960s. They lost the only life they knew. My family rarely talked about their pain, except to say it was better to die free than slaves to a dictatorship. I was 17 months old when we arrived in Florida.
I was raised by a godly grandmother, while my amazing mother, Eulalia — who had been in medical school in Havana — learned English, worked by day as a store clerk and as a lab technician at night. She saved her money to finish medical school in Spain and became a child psychiatrist in the United States. She’s 82 years old today and my hero.
I wanted to be a doctor, but I’m a journalist because it was meant to be.
My grades stank in high school and I dropped out of college, so I always worked, which prepared me for journalism. I installed wallpaper, loaded trucks for UPS, became an emergency medical technician, and I made a lot of cash selling beauty supplies — yes, I sold tons of bleach, hair color, relaxer, and shampoo. Sales taught me how to schmooze, solve problems and serve people — and how reputation was your currency.
Sales were great, but I was miserable. At age 27, I begged backed into Florida International University. Dean Fred Bouma took a chance on me, even though I was on academic probation. In 1990, I graduated with a journalism degree from FIU.
But here is what my instructors never taught me: how to persuade a stoned drug dealer not to shoot you, or how to check for explosives under your car. Yes, it happened.
What I’ve learned from this job
►Our readers expect us to be accurate, and when we err, we must admit the mistake and correct it.
►Treat everyone with fairness, dignity, and respect, especially our harshest critics. Always take the high road. Never twist the knife.
►Quality journalism costs money; investigations take time. There are tears, anguish and second-guessing — often punctuated by personal attacks from those looking to intimidate or threaten our financial livelihood.
►I can reassure you that truth eventually wins. Wrongs get corrected. And readers trust us, with their time, and wallet.
►In Arizona, our readers raised $65,000 for a Pearl Harbor survivor who got ripped off in a scam.
► In Naples, Florida, a reader wrote a $10,000 check to help a single mother who escaped from a sex-trafficking ring.
► The Smith Family Foundation of Estero, Florida, has funded scholarships to send promising Gannett reporters to the annual Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference.
“Journalism remains one of the world’s most noble professions,” said Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
His work helped put four Klansmen in prison for murder, a suspected serial killer behind bars — and helped free a wrongly convicted woman from death row.
USA TODAY investigative reporter Alison Young documented how thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth each year because hospitals and medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster.
“The response we’ve received from readers has been overwhelming. Hundreds of women have contacted us with their own harrowing childbirth stories,” she said.
At The Arizona Republic, relentless reporting revealed how leaders in state government systematically fired employees, often older workers, nearing pension age. That reporting forced the governor to rehire 40 of those people.
“Without the existence of the newspaper, those employees have no real recourse,” said Josh Susong, The Republic’s senior news director.
In South Carolina, at the Anderson Independent Mail, reporter Nikie Mayo found instances of vulnerable residents disappearing or being raped at a local assisted-living facility — all unreported to state regulators, as required. Her reporting led the state to launch an investigation.
“Many of us in small newsrooms see what we do as a calling,” Mayo said. “We certainly don’t do it for the money or glamour. On the most difficult days, my hope is that our work will help people.”
Servant leadership. It’s what we do.
Thank you for your time, and trust.
Standards Editor for the USA TODAY Network
Very inspiring writing — I hope you agree.
Please let Manny hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-872-7073.
Follow Manny on Twitter: @manny_garcia1.
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Thank you for taking the time to reflect with us on the critically important role investigative journalism plays in preserving our democracy and the American way of life. I encourage you to share Manny’s story and inspiring personal message with your friends and colleagues—as we have done with you.