Morley L. Piper himself presented the award. Photo by Art Illman/MWDN.
I am honored to report that last week I received the 2013 Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association.
The best part of winning was hearing from some long-gone colleagues and others with whom I’d lost touch.
The award was for more than a year’s worth of coverage of chaos within the Ashland Police Department. The plaque we received is a lot shinier than the daily grind of reporting all those stories felt.
“Krantz’s relentless reporting and frequent use of public-records laws allowed her to dig through the layers of the police morass and tell readers what was going on,” the judges wrote.
At last count I’ve written about 50 stories about APD. If you want to know more, read this.
The breeder with a Maltese puppy. Contributed photo.
I was on the police beat one Friday in late July when my editor heard chatter on the police scanner about dogs evacuated from a Red Roof Inn motel room.
It’s true – the best investigations come from beat reporting.
A few months and a lot of records later, I pieced together the story of a rogue dog breeder who evaded authorities for more than a decade.
My reporting included lots of meetings with the breeder’s customers, an interview on Cape Cod (note to self: August is the worst time to drive to the Cape in a hurry) and a 5:30 a.m. trip to Grafton the day 21 dogs (the ones we heard about on the scanner) were spayed and neutered.
I pieced together local and state records and spent two days in a government office sifting through three hulking binders of records about the breeder. I worked old sources and developed new ones.
The result is a tale of how lax laws made it easier for this breeder to get away with her schemes for a decade. Here’s the story.
It’s exciting when a story leads to change. After my Aug. 18 story about the retired Ashland sergeant the state is asking to return $27,000 he earned from traffic details, Framingham is looking at its own retirees to hunt for over-earners.
UPDATE: The county has now admitted two errors in calculating the amount the sergeant owes. He now over-earned about $24,000. The retiree and state and county overseers are calling for this confusing law to be changed or clarified.
Sgt. Steve Zanella works a traffic detail in 2008. MWDN file photo
This story started with an offhand remark from a source. But it nagged me and I followed up. The person told me the state was investigating a retired sergeant for earning too much money. Turns out there wasn’t an investigation, but state officials started one when I inquired.
This story taught me the importance of following up on tiny tips, and being persistent. About six months passed from the tip to the final story. My reporting involved records requests, interviews, lots of (polite) nagging and some (unsuccessful) stalking of a few construction sites, trying to talk to the retirees.
There should be some follow-ups, too, because my records requests turned up other police officers who also earned too much money working traffic details. The best stories are the ones that keep on giving.
The ongoing Red Roof Inn dog story shows what can happen when a reporter keeps pushing – and sits down for a while with the Massachusetts General Law.
The story about the woman found with 19 dogs in a stinky hotel room is raising questions about whether the Board of Health is overzealous in condemning properties, at the expense of tenants’ rights.
The story also shows how reporting can lead to change. The Board of Health is now calling for stricter regulations on hotels, to prevent this type of situation from happening again.
The story I’m following this week is sad and quirky. A woman was found in a Red Roof Inn hotel room with at least six dogs, their feces and so much trash firefighters could hardly walk into the room.
After the initial story (I went to the hotel and was turned away,) I’ve been collecting records and trying to figure out why the woman had been living in the hotel for three years.
The Red Roof Inn has long been the location of questionable activity and my database of Framingham arrests shows people have been arrested there for drugs and prostitution.
I’m keeping a list of directions this story can go and have drawn on a surprising group of sources that I’ve met through other stories in the past. Here is the latest installment.
I am really proud of this one. I followed up on a tiny tip I got in the midst of a quick, daily story and it turned into a fun investigation about underground dog hauling. I had no idea this happens so frequently. People buy dogs, sight unseen, off the back of trucks in CT, deliberately skirting MA’s strict laws.
I was much more organized in planning and researching this story and it paid off. Google Docs helped so much. I had a spreadsheet of all the dog owners I interviewed and an outline where I kept a running list of questions to ask different people. An online call-out on our website got me lots of sources.
From the first interview I started thinking about video and photos so it was much less of a last-minute scramble. But there were still last minute scrambles.
This one also involved a records request for shelters that were fined by the state. The letters to the shelters had way more information in them than what I could get into for this story, which ened up about 60 inches.
And because this story is about dogs (who doesn’t like cute furry puppies?) it got lots of traction on the internet, Facebook especially.
Whatever story I do next I want to use more of the Excel and Access skills I learned at IRE. That was one thing I didn’t need for this story.