Category: investigative reporting

Investigate your university’s mental health services

The Centers for Disease Control recently announced a disturbing rise in suicide rates across the country. This might be a good time to look into mental health services at your school. Now, investigating mental health is difficult. Two federal laws keep deny you access to a lot of information: There’s HIPPA –the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and there is FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The first protects an individual’s health records and the other protects student educational records.

But you can still do a solid investigation. First off, ask for staffing levels at your health center and break down for physicians and mental health professionals. Ask for the budgets. You are entitled to both. Then do a per capita — divide those numbers by the total number of students enrolled at your school. Then see if you can find comparable figures for other schools in your system or state. Ask for the same numbers for five years ago and 10 years ago to see if staffing and spending has kept up with enrollment.

You might try crowdsourcing to find students who have used or tried to get help from the mental health system. Find the director of your local suicide prevention organization and hotline and see if they have been seeing an increase in students.

There are some good resources out there:

Reporting on suicide

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has guides for journalists.

You might also check out this story that the Yale Daily News did in 2016 on the experience on students who return to school after withdrawing for mental health reasons.

Do you live in an earthquake region?

Check how safe your classrooms are. This is a good project for a large team. You might look at one building on campus. A science building is a good one because it often houses classes that all students are required to take at one time or another. Divide uImage result for students under desk earthquakep the classrooms among the team members and create a form. You should check these things:

  1. Can a big student easily fit under each desk and is the desk sturdy enough to serve as protection against falling debris or a collapsed wall or ceiling?
  2. Do windows line a wall of the room next to student desks?
  3. Would students be easily able to exit the room in the case of an earthquake?
  4. Is heavy equipment like cameras and projectors safely bolted to walls and ceilings?

Summer To Do List #4

It’s the beginning of the term. It’s time to find an idea for an investigative story.

Here’s some tips for doing that:

  1. Begin with a small idea. Barbara Ehrenreich’s bestselling book Nickel and Dimed, which explored the world of minimum wage work, began with a high-priced lunch and the notion that it must be tough to live on minimum wage.
  2. Pay attention to gossip. Don’t accept problems as a fact of life or old news. If a problem exists, there oughta be a solution to it, and that means a good story.
  3. Follow up on tips. You don’t know how many times people tell reporters: “You should do a story on…” It happens so often that many reporters tune off as soon as they hear those words. Instead, tune in. don't listen
  4. Keep your eyes and ears open. When you see anything out of whack or that
    seems wrong, consider that the starting point to an investigation.
  5. Scan news briefs. Often briefs tell you that something happened but they don’t explain the why or how. When you look into why or how a problem occurred or is occurring you are investigating the problem.
  6. Replicate an investigation done elsewhere. You can find great examples at the Extra!Extra! section of Investigative Reporters & Editors, Inc.