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An Indianapolis station is giving lessons in how to continue doing journalism in an industry afraid of accusations of liberal media bias and fake news.
After a video showing Carrier employees reacting to the news they’ll soon lose their jobs went viral in February, Indianapolis ABC affiliate WRTV went all in on the story about the local plant being moved to Monterrey, Mexico.
Reporter Rafael Sanchez was put on the story full time which eventually led to the station breaking a story contradicting claims by President-elect Donald Trump that he had saved 1,100 U.S. jobs.
“I think when we started to cover the story and pull back the layers, we saw that there was a lot more there,” she says. “We wanted to go beyond the news conferences and what state officials tell you.”
Sanchez big break came when he was barred from covering Donald Trump’s campaign visit to the Carrier plant in early December because of his aggressive reporting on the issue. Outside the rally, Sanchez took the opportunity to speak with workers and obtain a letter the company gave out that night which helped confirm that 600 workers would still lose their jobs in the move.
“Outside the building I was able to get quicker reaction and analysis,” Sánchez
told the Columbia Journalism review. “I could do real reporting in real time. Thanks to them barring me from the building, I was able to look at those numbers. I knew that 1,100 number was not true.”
But to break a story today, especially when it involves facts that contradict the president-elect and his media machine, means to be accused of faking the news, of being part of a liberal media conspiracy. If you have a name like Rafael Sánchez, it means being told on Twitter that you’re lucky that you haven’t been deported yet, even though Sánchez is a native New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx. It’s ugly out there for a local reporter just trying to get to the bottom of a story.
“Whoever is president, I don’t really care,” Sánchez says. “It is what it is. But we need to have a conversation about candor.”
Trump’s supporters attacked Sánchez for not being happy about the jobs that were saved, even though that number was much lower than Trump had claimed, says Sánchez, who has been at RTV6 for almost two decades. “I’m not happy, and I’m not unhappy,” Sánchez says. “I’m not angry. We are being agnostic. The numbers are not what they said they were.”
WRTV also used non-traditional methods to tell the story.
The station aired a half-hour special in March during the regular 7 p.m. news broadcast. It streamed the special through Facebook Live, becoming one of the first TV news stations to take advantage of the technology when the social media company started to allow branded pages to use that feature. The special received an additional 10,000 views through Facebook, with 44 shares.
“By running the special through Facebook Live, Rafael was able to sit there in real time and respond to people,” Cope-Walton says. “That’s reach we never would have gotten through our signal locally.”
In addition to the broadcast specials, the station also created the documentary series for YouTube using a longer storytelling format.
“This is the story that keeps on going,” Cope-Walton says. “First it became a national story. Then we just followed the promises, the commitment, and what it looks like for the worker. As journalists, our job is to break it apart. We don’t have a dog in the fight either way.”