Hiott: Same commitment to investigate, but more ways to tell the story

Some of the best investigative reporting the Statesman has done in the past couple of years came from longtime beat reporter Andrea Ball, a tenacious watchdog for the well-being of some of the state’s must vulnerable residents – people with mental challenges and foster children.

Her stories on problems with state services have earned statewide awards, but more importantly, the work has led to increased oversight for those residents.

That’s one of the reasons it was an easy decision recently to add Andrea Ball to our investigative team, which takes on some of the toughest issues in the region.

Ball has been at the Statesman since 1999. She covered federal and district courts, created the philanthropy beat and column at the paper, then took on social services.

She joins reporters Eric Dexheimer, Jeremy Schwartz and Tony Plohetski on the investigative team, which also includes database editor Christian McDonald, photographer Jay Janner, and Debra Davis, the investigative editor. We’re still on the hunt for a fifth investigative reporter.

The team is focused on accountability journalism — shining a light on problems, holding the right people accountable, and pushing for answers. So far this year they have revealed troubling practices by a veteran’s charity that the state has since begun investigating; dug into small town Central Texas police departments with members of the force that were dismissed from the Austin Police Department; and reported on city code enforcement issues, among other things.

We’ve committed to keeping an investigative team even as newsrooms across the country have cut back on such work in the face of falling advertising revenue. That’s because we think that kind of journalism is at the foundation of what we should be doing to help the community. But it’s also good for business. It’s something unique we provide that isn’t readily available elsewhere on the Internet or in print.

In June of last year we launched our subscriber-only website, www.mystatesman.com, to showcase our investigative work and other premium content. The website has more than 225,000 unique visitors each month, and growing.

We’re also trying to build on the value of MyStateman for subscribers. We allow five registered users for each subscriber account; we reduced the number of times a reader has to log in; subscribers can now share articles on social media without those friends and followers having to pay to read; we added 99-cent day passes; and we’ve added content that isn’t available in print such as our weekly Food Extra and a Major League Baseball roundup.

Those special sections — more are on the way within a month — can be found at mystatesman.com, or via Today’s Paper, which is accessible as an app or on any digital device through the link emailed to subscribers each morning. Why aren’t those sections available in print? There are two reasons: One is that it is more expensive to print the pages than it is to put them in the digital format, but the main reason is that we want those print readers to explore what we’re doing online.

And, of course, there are some things we’re doing online that just can’t be done in print. At the beginning of the year we hired two new videographers, Reshma Kirpalani and Efren J. Salinas, to join videographer Kelly West and the entire photo staff in providing more video storytelling on our websites. Our staff is creating more than 50 videos a month, ranging from silly (squirrel obstacle course, anyone?) to the serious (drug proliferation around the Eagle Ford Shale). On top of that, we’re doing more interactive presentations you can only find online.

The investigative team has used video and other multimedia to supplement the reporting on their big investigations, and also to give a peek behind the scenes at how those stories come together. Reporters like Andrea Ball are adapting their storytelling methods just as readers are adapting the way they consume news. If you want to get more of the story, you might have to try out a few different platforms.

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