In the March/April issue of CJR, Darts & Laurels told how the Des Moines Register had resurrected a story about an Iowa turkey processing plant and the mentally disabled workers who were paid sub-minimum wages to work there—a story the paper had uncovered thirty years before, but that had then languished in the paper’s morgue until a call from one of the workers’ relatives brought the men’s plight to light again. We gave a Laurel to the Register for hammering the story a second time around, spurring hearings and enacting reforms, and a Dart to journalism’s bad habit of firing one shot at big stories and then moving on.
Of course, it’s tough enough keeping up with today’s nonstop news cycle without digging into the past for more work, especially at newsrooms stretched to capacity by the double whammy of personnel cuts and the insatiable maw of the Web. These factors often make the journalistic ideal of “follow-up” exactly that—a wish-list, practiced in fits and starts.
The beauty of Epilogue is that it makes the follow-up systematic, thus serving as a partial antidote to journalism’s institutional memory loss, and sometimes connecting the random dots of news that bombard us each day. Readers love it. When the paper published an account of a woman shot three times by her ex-boyfriend thirty years ago, who since has struggled for a full life from her wheelchair, readers raved in the comments section: “Good story…. We need more like this one.” “Love this series!” So to the Lincoln Journal Star, a LAUREL for digging through old notebooks and finding treasure.