Several months ago, a recent journalism school graduate pitched us a story about a troubling aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system based on his master’s thesis. All odds were against us taking it on – Antoine Goldet was newly minted and, what’s more, he’s French. Could he report this story deeply? Could he write well in English? So many questions.
But the topic is one we care about: plea deals, our unjust solution to clearing court dockets choked by years of getting tough on crime. And Goldet had brought us an interesting twist on the steady drumbeat of coverage, drawing us step by step by step into the life of a man desperately trying to take back his guilty plea to a crime he did not commit.
So we took a risk on Goldet and, later, he took a risk on us, too, when we decided the best way to roll out his story was in 21 installments on our Instagram channel illustrated by our very own Allison McCartney – one for every year beginning when Rodney Roberts was convicted in 1996. That year, 92 percent of convictions at the criminal court of Essex County, New Jersey, rested on plea bargains, and Roberts’ was among them. But his was certainly no bargain.
Amy Pyle is editor in chief of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_pyle.