Friday, April 13, 2012

What I learned: Sean Adkins on roadblocks

Second installment from our staff's Keystone Award winners on what they learned. Business reporter Sean Adkins was part of a team that won first place in investigative reporting for "Are we ready?" -- a look at evacuation plans, and their weak spots, for Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom nuclear power plants.

One of the most difficult tasks in telling a good story is weaving hard facts together with a strong narrative. Even more challenging is to persuade sources to give you important information amid the backdrop of a national story.
     We started reporting the "Are We Ready?" package weeks after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.  Initially, my nuclear sources were quick to point out that such a crisis befalling either Three Mile Island or Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station was remote.
      Once those interviews were in my notebook, those same sources appeared a bit skittish about speaking any further on the subject.  My guess is that they were simply waiting for that particular news cycle to expire.
   In one case, a source took issue with the fact that I reported, at the time, emergency sirens surrounding one of the nuclear-powered plants did not have a battery back-up. That source questioned why I hadn't focused on the most positive aspects of a recent meeting that found favor with the plant's operating record.
    The information about sirens made it into the "Are We Ready" package.
    Would my source have been more accepting of my reporting/questions if Fukushima had not taken place?   I don't know.  Maybe.
As I recall, Sean (and Teresa Boeckel and Bill Landauer, the other reporters on the project) kept going back to sources until they got what they needed. Persistence pays.