AP State News Reports: Finding a grim trend beyond a day’s headline

Aug. 4, 2012
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In a July 31, 2012 photo, a trashed strewn street is seen in east Detroit. Abandoned lots, alleys and neglected parks in Detroit used to be a favorite destination for discarded tires and trash. But over the past few months they have become dumping grounds for the dead. At least seven bodies have been found in some of the most desolated haunts in a half-empty city. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
In this Aug. 7 memo to the Associated Press staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay recounts how AP reporter Corey Williams stuck with the story of two suburban teens found dead in a Detroit lot to produce an exclusive about an even more gruesome trend in the city.

Detroit has become such a broken city, with block after block of crumbling buildings and grown-over empty lots, that members of the local media can be a bit jaded when events that would horrify most people happen in their back yards. But the AP’s Corey Williams knew that dead bodies being dumped in lots along with old soda bottles and worn-out sofas was big news – and he took the story further than any of his local colleagues.

When the bodies of two suburban teens showed up in an overgrown field in Detroit, stripped and shot, Williams was the only reporter covering the immediate news to ask a broader question: How many abandoned bodies had been found in Detroit? The answer: at least a dozen. Williams’ subsequent reporting, rich with you-are-there details, resulted in an exclusive story that connected all the dots during a 12-month period and remains the only one of its kind produced by local or national media.

Williams developed the story less than a week after the discovery of the teens’ bodies, found after they didn’t return home from a visit to an uncle downtown. It included insightful comments from a frustrated Detroit police officer who detailed the department’s challenges. Scared residents told Williams about their frustrations, while urban planners called the abandoned bodies the expected result when a city’s reputation and infrastructure remain in a constant state of disrepair.

Said interim news editor David Aguilar, “The story forced readers to face a gruesome trend, without pandering to pure salaciousness.” And, he noted, policymakers also will be forced to confront it.

For probing deeply to discover a grim trend beyond just the day’s headline, Williams earns this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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