Doig Defends Florida’s Public

by Drew R. Hamilton

Matthew Doig, investigative reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, spoke to the Public Affairs Reporting class on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Doig discussed three of his most-noteworthy stories, which included the following topics: mortgage fraud, abusive teachers and lower standards for teachers in low-income regions of the state.

In each case, Doig was able to use public records to unveil a frightening occurrence in our society on a state level.  From his lecture, it became clear that the journalist’s story lies in those areas of the public records where there is a procedural and/or operational breakdown.

In the abusive teachers story, where Doig uncovered that an astounding amount of Florida teachers were getting second and third chances after multiple complaints of sexual misconduct with students, the procedural breakdown occurred on the school district level.  Doig discovered that many school districts were not reporting the teacher misconduct complaints to the state level officials, as they are required.   This allowed teachers to skip around school districts earning a complaint or two, before jumping ship to prey on another district.

In the mortgage fraud case, the procedural breakdown was less negligible than the teacher abuse case, because there were criminals cooking up fake documents in order to scam the bank out of large sums of money.

However, if the bank had done their homework, like Doig and Co. at the Herald-Tribune, they would have discovered that they were being had.

The story exposing the hard truth that low-income regions of the state often harbor the teachers, who have repeatedly failed the competency test, appeared to be the easiest of the three to uncover and probably the most basic approach to using public records in journalism.

For this story, all the information was out in the open.  All Doig had to do was go get it.  He explained how that was easier said than done.  Doig’s team at the Herald-Tribune experienced a lot of resistance from the state school board.  Once they had the data, they were able to prove what they had thought all along, that the Florida’s worst teachers ended up teaching at the schools with the lowest income.

Yet again, there was an operational breakdown in the school board’s lack of oversight and review of these terrible teachers.  Doig discovered that teachers were allowed to take the competency test as many times as they needed to pass.  One teacher took it a whopping 62 times.

Matthew Doig and his fellow investigative journalists at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune have accomplished real social change from their work with public records.

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Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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