AP State News Reports: Kitchen-table story on agriculture beat

Aug. 28, 2012
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 A security guard opens the gate at the Central Valley Meat Co., the California slaughterhouse shut down by federal regulators after they received video showing dairy cows being repeatedly shocked and shot before being slaughtered, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 in Hanford, Calif. Federal regulators are investigating whether beef from sick cows reached the human food supply. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
A security guard opens the gate at the Central Valley Meat Co., the California slaughterhouse shut down by federal regulators after they received video showing dairy cows being repeatedly shocked and shot before being slaughtered, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 in Hanford, Calif. Federal regulators are investigating whether beef from sick cows reached the human food supply. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
In this memo to AP staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay recounts how a reporter’s close look at a slaughterhouse led to a shutdown of the facility and dominated websites and front pages in California:

The animal welfare group contacted veteran agriculture writer Tracie Cone, it said, because of her reputation for fair reporting. And what the group offered to share was an undercover video it had produced showing animals being subjected to inhumane treatment at a Central California slaughterhouse. Cows that appeared to be sick or lame were beaten, kicked, shot and shocked in an attempt to get them to walk to slaughter.

The Fresno-based Cone negotiated the first media access to the video and then plunged into her reporting, contacting the USDA and the company in question, the Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif. Later that day, the company released a general statement to the news media saying the USDA had shut down the facility, which the Fresno Bee wrote up briefly and put on its website. But that story soon was knocked aside for the far fuller story put together by Cone, which included quotes from the USDA and the animal welfare group, along with a description of the video.

Cone’s reporting set off efforts by other publications to catch up, but they never did.

She didn’t stop there, though. Working with sources who guided her through the company’s website, Cone scored an APNewsBreak the next day that revealed this one slaughterhouse provided millions of pounds of beef to federal government nutrition programs, including the national school lunch program. It also counted among its clients the In-N-Out Burger chain and McDonald’s. She revealed that $50 million of the $135 million the federal government spent on beef went to the Central Valley Meat Co.

Cone’s coverage resonated particularly strongly with members in California, where agriculture is the biggest industry. Her stories dominated the websites of the McClatchy newspapers, which specialize in agriculture reporting, and landed on the front pages of the North County Times in San Diego, the Riverside Press Enterprise and papers in Salinas, Visalia, Bakersfield and Fresno – the hub of the California agriculture industry.

A video package with footage by Gosia Wozniacka and the material Cone obtained from the animal welfare group was one of the most downloaded by TV customers, and still photos were pulled from the footage.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/08/23/2961899/usda-mcdonalds-suspend-slaughterhouse.html#storylink=cpy.

For excellent beat reporting on a story of crucial import to her state – and importance beyond California’s borders, too – Cone wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

Kristin 

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