For journalists, it's pretty simple. We want our work to make a difference.
Sometimes fortune smiles on us. At the Chicago Tribune I co-wrote a five-part series that helped convince the Illinois governor to suspend executions and then empty death row. (This led to this and this.)
At the Seattle Times I worked with Michael Berens on a couple of healthcare investigations. A series on the MRSA epidemic changed laws (this >>
Sometimes, fortune dawdles. A 2004 series detailed the shoddy work of public defenders with crazy high workloads. In 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court, citing our work, imposed caseload standards. (This[and this/this] + 8 years >> this).
A story's impact can be immediately evident -- for example, a police chief gets fired, or a watchdog piece on landslide risks leads to a federal campground being closed. But often, fortune is inscrutable. We'll write a story and see nothing change in the way of law or policy. (This>> ???).
But those can be my favorite stories. I love a cautionary tale that reaches back in time and moves readers to contemplate and maybe even reconsider. I wrote a serieswith Nick Perry on the twisted priorities attached to college sports, and how Seattle looked away when members of a celebrated football team did serious harm off the field.
The stories (parts 1, 2, 3, 4 ) got lots of comments, as you can imagine. Here's the one that sticks with me most: