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ROTARY MEETING: John Boyette, Aiken Standard – Investigative Journalism
October 4, 2021 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
The “truth is our Standard” and “facts aren’t free.”
Get ready to hear those phrases a lot in the coming days, weeks and months as the Aiken Standard and The Star of North Augusta launch our Public Service and Investigative Fund.
Today’s front-page story on an investigation into the finances of the Town of Wagener, with a sharp look at the spending practices of the fire department, is the first of many planned articles that our team of journalists will produce in the months to come.
It would be easy to say reporter Dede Biles spent the better part of a month working on today’s package of stories. That would be accurate. But the truth is that she’s been covering Aiken County for years, and the issues in Wagener have bubbled to the surface from time to time. It all came to a head last fall with the dismissal of the fire department’s top two people, and earlier this year the county launched its own probe into how money was being spent.
Doing this type of journalism can be both time consuming and expensive. Dede filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain documents related to Wagener. It should be noted that Wagener Mayor Mike Miller provided the Aiken Standard, at no cost, with a flash drive containing many documents used in our story. But we still have some FOIA requests pending, for Wagener and other topics, that could cost thousands of dollars.
If you know me at all, you know I’d rather get a root canal than ask for money. But funding this type of journalism is extremely important, and we wouldn’t be asking for assistance if it wasn’t necessary. Publisher Rhonda Overbey and I plan to make presentations around the county on what we are doing; let us know if your organization would like to hear from us.
For more than 150 years, the Aiken Standard has been a trusted news source for Aiken County. For The Star, it’s been on the scene in North Augusta for more than 60 years. Having a healthy news-gathering organization is a vital part of the democratic process and helps make a difference in our communities.
We will still be doing all of the “little” things that you have come to expect. But these deeper dives into investigative reporting and public service journalism are also an essential part of our mission. In the end, we feel this type of work will help keep our elected officials accountable and also shine a light where there is darkness.
Many people at the Aiken Standard have worked very hard to get this project off the ground. Our publisher challenged me and the newsroom’s top editors to identify stories that would fall into public service or investigative categories. We did just that, and we have some interesting projects that are in the works.
Here are just a few of the people who helped Dede’s story along the way:
News editor Holly Kemp organized discussion meetings and asked important questions. Multimedia editor Eric Russell made sure the digital components for the campaign are in place and also made some valuable contributions in the planning meetings. Night editor Shana Donahue printed out all of the documents related to Wagener and organized them for Dede. Presentation editor Karen Klock and her team made the design of the print pages sparkle.
On the marketing/promotion side, Gabby Boardman and Melinda Caldwell have led the effort to produce materials to help spread the word about the Public Service and Investigative Fund. Many others in our organization have been involved, too, and many more will contribute in the future.