Thursday, October 16, 2008
3 Questions with John MacCormack
John MacCormack recently answered a few questions for me VIA E-mail as a preview for his upcoming speaking engagement during Mass Comm week.
What motivates you to the field of investigative journalism?
I am an investigative reporter as circumstances dictate, meaning I spend most of my time doing routine pieces, but have the luxury of digging deeply into a subject if I find something that seems important to resolve. With the press being the court of last resort for the public, an investigative reporter is often the only person who is wiling and able to untangle complex situations which often involve injustice or corruption. I consider it part of my job - and a part I thoroughly enjoy - to try an dsolve complex mysteries, to bring mischief and wickedness to light, and to help people who have been treated unjustly. And, it's terrific fun to get to the bottom of something that at first looked like a complete enigma.
What are the most difficult aspects or challenging obstacles of being an investigative journalist?
While "investigative reporting" sounds very glamorous, most of the work involved is fairly murky and tedious. It often takes a very long time to figure out a complex situation well enough to begin to form conclusions. There are many, many dead ends, and false starts. There's a lot of time obtaining documents and interviewing people with no real sense of where it will go. Of course, if you're working on something that is touchy, people will try to avoid you and mislead you. The climax usually comes when you have to interview the individuals you have been investigating. This can be dicey. The sense of satisfaction comes if you are lucky enough to put together a coherent picture of what happened, and then have enough evidence to publish a story. Getting great information is the first step. Getting it past the lawyers is often a bigger step.
What are some cases/stories that you have been currently working on?
I am presently working on a very complex story about bail bondsmen. This is a world unto itself and it's taken me about a month just to feel like I had a command of the subject. I'm still not sure where the story is going since much of what I have learned may not be published because I lack proof. Earlier this summer, I did an "investigate light" piece on the Overton case in Corpus Christi. While my story did not offer much new material or any important breakthroughs, it did present the case in a somewhat different light. After several months of looking into it, I had come to the conclusion that Hannah Overton, who is serving life without parole for allegedly causing the death of a foster child, was very likely innocent. The case is presently under appeal. This is a good example of the role the press can play, and investigative reporting in particular, in focusing attention on miscarriages of justice.
John MacCormack is an investigative journalist who writes for The San Antonio Express-News and The Texas Observer.
MacCormack is known for the un-raveling the case and linking evidence to David Waters, the disgruntled employee accused of kidnapping American Athiests founder Madelyn Murray O'Hair and her family.
He is also credited with recently bringing national attention to the controversial case of Hannah Overton, a mother from Corpus Christi, TX who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the accidental death of her Adopted son.
MacCormack will speak on Thursday, Oct. 23 at 12:30 p.m. in OM 232.
Photo courtesy of The SA Express News