Reporting with Confidence
Eva Ruth Moravec, Co-Founder of The Texas Justice Initiative
I love learning, and it’s my belief that it’s unhealthy for one to close off one’s mind to learning new things. Because of this passion for education, journalism – a profession that requires asking questions and understanding the answers – has always come somewhat naturally.
For years, I worked for newspapers, starting with weekly publications in downtown Austin, Oak Hill, Southwest Houston and San Antonio, and eventually landing at the daily San Antonio Express-News. At weekly newspapers, the staff is typically miniscule, and reporters are assigned to cover anything from meetings at city hall to breaking news and features on new restaurants and businesses. So I’d covered a few scenes before my first day on scanners with the Express-News, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the breaking news beat.
I arrived to my first scene – a dog bite – a little too quickly, I’d soon learn. I parked around the block, and as I rounded the corner, I heard two gunshots. The scene was chaotic, and as first responders hurriedly walked in and out of the one-story house, panicked relatives began to arrive. Around me, police officers roped off the crime scene. Inside the home, a 7-month-old had been brutally killed – “dragged around like a ragdoll” ¬– by two pit bulls when the baby’s grandmother left the room to heat a bottle.
How often did that happen? Were pit bulls inherently dangerous, or were all dogs liable to eat small children? Did these dogs show signs of aggression before? I quickly learned that law enforcement tracked these things, and that the dogs had attacked a child before. The woman was indicted for injury to a child and died of natural causes before a trial could take place. I was left wondering: How can I report in a way that helps readers, instead of just shocks and horrifies them?
It has always been important for me to infuse my reporting with context, facts, best practices and some sort of take-away for readers. It remained a priority when I covered the Texas Legislature for The Associated Press, and I watched in excitement as legislators passed a law requiring basic information to be reported on each officer-involved shooting. In a data journalism class for my Master’s degree, I started a database of information from the reports, and sought a way to report on the incidents using both the qualitative and quantitative methods I was learning about. The result was a series on officer-involved shootings that ran in three newspapers, and while I reported and took journalism classes, I also took law enforcement training courses on using force and participated in Austin’s Citizen Police Academy.
Throughout the past decade, I’ve enhanced my journalism skills with those of a budding social scientist, thanks to graduate school, and have been able to look more critically at research, policies, practices and outcomes. I have a lot more to learn, but I know that factual information has the ability to enhance trust and build understanding. These days, I work occasionally as a stringer covering breaking news for The Washington Post, but mostly focus on running my nonprofit, the Texas Justice Initiative, which is focused on increasing transparency and accountability in Texas criminal justice. I am also writing a book about the legality vs. public opinion of officer-involved shootings in Texas for the University of Texas Press. I find myself relying on experts, research and evidence-based practices for nearly everything I do, and being a member of ASEBP allows me to stay at the forefront of new law enforcement research and practices.
Eva Ruth Moravec is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting fellow, a freelance reporter and the author of a forthcoming book that explores the legality of police shootings in Texas. While in a data journalism class for her master’s at the University of Texas at Austin, Moravec started a database of officer-involved shootings in Texas. She then explored cases in her database through “Point of Impact,” an investigative journalism series that ran in three Texas daily newspapers. She has covered criminal justice in Texas for a decade, including stints at the San Antonio Express-News and The Associated Press.