This week marked the end of our first year producing an hour of investigative reporting weekly on public radio and podcast.
It didn’t take us long to figure out why we were alone in this field. Launching the show has been a little like having a baby: You have no idea how on earth you’re going to be able to pull it off. But you make it work, through some mysterious mix of love and unrelenting hard work.
We end the year knowing two things that would make any parent proud: We learned a lot and we created something special in the process.
“Reveal” reached an audience of millions, earning a spot in iTunes’ top 10, the No. 6 ranking in The Atlantic’s list of Top 50 Podcasts of 2016 and a slot on more than 360 public radio stations across the country.
Our text stories changed people’s lives through new laws, new policies and increased awareness of problems and solutions. Those investigations also reached millions through our website and the 175 news outlets worldwide that republished our work.
The common theme for us on radio and in text is partners. So a special thanks to all of the journalists, from radio stations, the freelance world, newspapers, other nonprofit news organizations and television partners, who brought us their stories and embraced ours. We could not have done it without you.
We asked our listeners, readers and staff for their favorite Reveal stories of the year. Here they are:
Read: 5 favorite stories
Back in 2015, we discovered that one water guzzler in a ritzy enclave of Southern California used nearly 12 million gallons in one drought-stricken year. Since Los Angeles, like most California cities, wouldn’t name names, we called him the Wet Prince of Bel Air.
This year, we decided to track down the Wet Prince (or Princess) ourselves using fancy satellites and algorithms.
The kicker: “I have been a responsible person,” said Robert Daly, former chairman of both Warner Brothers and the Los Angeles Dodgers – and one of our top water-guzzling suspects. “I can’t help the fact that I own a lot of property.”
In secretive marijuana industry, whispers of abuse and trafficking (with Cosmopolitan.com)
California’s Emerald Triangle has for decades been home to a close-knit community of pot growers. But as more “trimmigrants” have traveled there for lucrative weed-trimming work, stories of sexual abuse and exploitation have abounded.
The kicker: Yet law enforcement repeatedly has failed to investigate abuse and sexual violence in the industry. Instead, officers mostly focus on what they view as the root cause of the problem: the drug trade.
Who got rich off the student debt crisis (with Consumer Reports)
At $1.3 trillion, America’s student loan debt has tripled in the past decade, altering the way a generation of debtors approaches the basics in life: whether they can get married, have kids and buy a home. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But Congress has enacted one law after another to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans – and the best kind for banks and debt collectors.
The kicker: Saul Newton, an Army rifleman stationed in Afghanistan, was usually pretty busy fighting the Taliban. Yet he would routinely travel to a wooden shack where his unit kept an internet-connected laptop. He had to pay his loans, he said. Otherwise, “my credit would be shot.”
We found a mounting pattern of racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory hiring by temp agencies. This bias hides in the business transactions of an important, expanding sector of the U.S. economy.
The kicker: “If they were black, we had to tell them the job was cancelled or already filled by another recruiter,” one worker wrote.
The God Loophole (with al.com)
Thousands of religious day cares across America legally are allowed to run their facilities with little government oversight. But freedom from regulation can come at a high price for children. And when things go wrong, parents have little recourse.
The kicker: She’s been called a crook. A con artist. A snake in the grass. But in Alabama, the only thing that really matters to state regulators is that she calls herself a Christian.
Listen: 5 favorite podcasts
The man inside: Four months as a prison guard (with Mother Jones)
A journalist cracks private prisons’ shell of secrecy by getting a job as a prison guard. This is the story of what he saw and how he changed.
Listener feedback: It had an elegant way of exposing horrors. – Ridhi
The white nationalist movement experienced a renaissance riding President-elect Donald Trump’s coattails. Host Al Letson goes one-on-one with the face of this movement, Richard Spencer.
Listener feedback: Al Letson’s interview with that white supremacist was one of the most important moments of any show, ever. I’m disabled, and I’ve sometimes been in the position where other people casually talk about the virtues of eugenics. It’s not easy to be seen as an Other (or, ‘lesser’). Mr. Letson’s composure and grace in the face of this man’s horrific ideas gave me hope and a model of how to deal with these kinds of conversations in the future. – Simon
The behind-the-scenes story of one of the greatest leaks of government secrets in history, told through the leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, and a journalist who worked on The New York Times’ team, our own Robert Rosenthal.
Listener feedback: Because I was a kid when it happened – and it brought out the longstanding importance of investigative journalism and speaking truth to power. I like ALL of your stories, but this one was especially exciting, like a spy novel, only real. I sat in my car to finish listening. – Linda Copeland
A welfare check (with Marketplace)
Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton vowed to end welfare as we know it. And he did. Today, only a quarter of welfare dollars actually goes toward basic assistance – housing, transportation or essential household items. The rest ends up in some pretty surprising places.
Listener feedback: I was shocked to find out where the money was actually going & that just blew my mind when so many other people I know actually NEED the money. – Shannon Cooper
Russia’s new scapegoats (with Coda Story)
The anti-gay movement is violent and pervasive in Russia. This show traces the roots of that movement and shows how President Vladimir Putin uses the agenda to quash political dissent, exert influence on neighboring nations and bash the West.
Listener feedback: I just couldn’t believe the content in this show and the unflinching reporting. There are plenty of lessons in this show that Americans would do well to pay attention to, especially in the age of Trump. – Susan
How our stories made a difference
We value impact. And in 2016, many of our stories forced positive change. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of that impact:
- Six new laws were passed across the nation, rectifying wrongdoing and closing loopholes that put the public at risk.
- Three major federal policy changes were implemented, resulting in better health care for veterans, a curtailing of the use of private prisons and protections against blatant discrimination for temp workers.
- Seven official government investigations were launched, including by the U.S. Senate, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Border Patrol and the State of California.
- We were awarded 21 national prizes for our text, film and audio stories, among them two Emmy Awards, five Edward R. Murrow Awards and eight National Headliner Awards. Add to that more than a dozen regional and local awards.
Contact Andrew Donohue at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @add.