by Jane Glazer and Ranya Salvant
In an attempt to show how issues with Title IX persisted and a lack of reformed response to how colleges respond to sexual assault cases, reporters Asia Fields and Taylor Blatchford connected with sexual assault survivors on different college campuses throughout Washington. The reporters wove the stories of the survivors they interviewed with data from about 500 sexual misconduct investigations throughout the state. The result was a multimedia piece allowing survivors to tell their stories in ways they were comfortable with alongside statewide data and resources for readers to navigate the system when dealing with sexual assault cases.
Organization Background: The Seattle Times is one of the oldest family-owned metro daily newspapers in the United States. When it was first founded in 1891, it began as the Seattle Press-Times and had a daily circulation of 3,500 readers. As of today, The Seattle Times has about 2.1 million readers and 13.5 million visitors on their website per month. They focus on “mission-driven journalism” by serving the Northwest with quality and independent local stories that have been recognized nationally for their impact. Their sections include a variety of topics from business to life. Over the course of their history, they’ve acquired 11 Pulitzer Prizes.
They have several community-funded labs and initiatives because they recognize that there are needs in the community that could be met with the help of public service campaigns. Benefactors include Ballmer Group, BECU, Campion Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Seattle Foundation and the University of Washington, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They helped to fund these campaigns to assist in the success of a series of community-led efforts like the Investigative Journalism Fund, Mental Health Project, and Project Homeless. They also have a few community programs like Fund For Those In Need and Newspapers in Education.
The goals of this project were to highlight the voices of sexual-assault survivors throughout the state of Washington to show that problems with enforcement of Title IX persisted. The mission of The Seattle Times’ investigative team is to “hold the powerful to account and expose injustices through meticulous reporting and compelling storytelling.” In doing so, the project hoped to expose these persisting injustices, despite Washington state lawmakers vowing to lead the country in changing how colleges respond to sexual assault. Students shared that they felt “abandoned” by the response from people in power when dealing with sexual assault cases. The project aimed to hold those in power accountable, give a platform for stories of this nature, and give resources for survivors.
Fields and Blatchford both worked on this story for about six months. Other members of The Seattle Times also contributed with editing and creating visuals. The team used Google forms, as well as email, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, as a means to discover and connect with survivors.
Tools & Technology
They used Google Forms to do a callout posted on social media. The callout was a way to begin seeking out sources for their story, specifically survivors from Washington college campuses. They also created visual renderings of survivors’ handwriting after a member of their video team suggested incorporating the handwriting as a way to visually identify survivors who didn’t want to show their faces.
Fields and Blatchford shared that their reporting has motivated lawmakers to seek out further information about this issue; specifically regarding the lack of uniformity in how Washington’s colleges handle these cases. Sources reached out to share that they felt the reporting process and end result were meaningful, and they liked knowing that the piece was out there and would hopefully help. Over 1,600 people have accessed their resource guide online.
How it Happened
Asia Fields previously reported on Title IX cases and she’d been keeping in contact with students about their stories. In 2021, students were returning to campus after a long period away due to the pandemic and with the Biden administration considering changes to Title IX regulations, Fields and Taylor Blatchford decided to do a callout, as mentioned above, for sources to a new story/project on Title IX issues in the state of Washington.
- Fields and Blatchford started the callout form on September 15, 2021.
- They kept the form up until a few weeks before the story was published on March 6, 2022.
- They received 31 form responses and heard from 16 additional sources between September 2021 to February 2022.
- They chose 5 survivors to profile in the multimedia piece and spoke with others for the lead investigative story.
1. Reporting with a Trauma-Informed Approach
Fields and Blatchford used a trauma-informed approach to their reporting process. From the moment they sent the callout to the time the story was done, they worked with the survivors who were willing to tell their story and made sure that they considered what this meant to approach sources thoughtfully, by making sure survivors knew what the process entailed and ensuring they knew of resources, if needed.
2. Starting A First-Of-Its-Kind College Campus Sexual Misconduct Database
The sexual misconduct investigations at Washington’s six public universities were made into a database by Asia Fields and Emily M. Eng. Fields said they felt it was important for the public to see how public universities were handling sexual assault cases. Even though the data was required to be public, it had not been easily accessible. To address this, the team created an accessible database that put the data in a digestible format. They hoped it would help people see how universities are handling these types of cases and help colleges become more transparent in sharing their data.
3. Providing A Resource Guide for Survivors
Fields and Blatchford created a resource guide including further information on policies and proceedings at colleges throughout Washington. With the guide, they aimed to help educate and supply readers with the tools necessary to know for themselves what they can do if they, or someone they know, has experienced sexual misconduct.
4. Hosting Campus Workshops for College Journalists
They held a Zoom workshop for college journalists to learn how to report on Title IX cases, discussing how to handle data and how to engage with the student population on this matter. There were dozens of students and advisors in attendance.
What Could Have Worked Better
1. Planning Community Outreach with Diverse Students
Fields and Blatchford felt they could have done a better job at building relationships over time, as they recognized that certain student communities and groups have a harder time trusting certain institutions like colleges or news outlets with vulnerable information, especially communities found in campus surveys to face sexual misconduct at disproportionately higher rates than their counterparts. They feel their diverse perspectives to sexual misconduct and the investigations on campus are layered and could have provided further intersectional viewpoints to the issue at hand.
2. Utilizing Advocates as Sources
Fields and Blatchford said they wanted to connect with more advocates, because they end up being a helpful source of information regarding policies, procedures, information and news on the climate on campuses and state-wide. The advocates also helped them connect with many other survivors on campuses. If they had connected with more advocates, they may have had the ability to tell more stories.
3. Launching More Campus-Specific Outreach
Fields and Blatchford wanted to do more in-person, campus-specific outreach to spread more information about the project. For example, they would have liked to distribute flyers linking to their callout, hold office hours near campus, or listening sessions with students. However, since COVID was an issue during the time they were doing this report, opportunities for in-person outreach were limited.
4. Making Resources More Accessible
Fields said they shared their project and the resources on social media and with various advocates and national groups, but felt more could have been done to make this story and the resources accessible to the public via social media and other methods, specifically students/campus communities.
What Else You Should Know
- They haven’t done a follow-up story or project since then. They are both keeping tabs on the nation-wide conversation around Title IX legislation.
- They worked with an entire team of people who each added their expertise and style to the project, to help tell it visually. The photographer who took the survivors’ pictures was Erika Schultz. The videos were done by Corinne Chin, Ramon Dompor and Lauren Frohne. When it came to graphic design, Jennifer Luxton was key in that process, as was editor Frank Mina. Fred Nelson was in charge of photo editing. Jonathan Martin, Laura Gordon, and Emily M. Eng were in charge of editing.
- Blatchford and Fields explained their role as reporters while talking with survivors and students, making it clear that they did not act as advocates and could not provide legal advice on the survivors’ cases. They sought to make the reporting process clear to survivors and also shared resources with those who might need mental or emotional support.
- ‘Nothing should have happened to any of us.’
- ‘In survivors’ words: How colleges should better respond to sexual misconduct
- Resources for navigating Title IX and sexual misconduct at Washington colleges