Looking forward to the future of journalism

How a journalist uncovered fraud in a $350 million child-care program

Video of investigative reporter Raquel Rutledge

Rosland Gammon had an interesting Q&A with investigative reporter Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who uncovered rampant fraud in a $350 million, taxpayer-subsidized child-care program. Her series of stories, Cashing in on Kids, led to criminal charges against the scammers.

A video profiling Rutledge offers a glimpse at the tedious grunt work required to get the story. Rutledge relied on insiders with access to key documents, and she staked out people who were abusing the system.

After months of work, here was the lede for her first story:

On paper Angela Hale is a child-care provider.

She reported taking care of the same five kids seven days a week while their mom supposedly worked at a lawn-care service, even in the winter months.

The government paid Hale more than $30,000 last year for her child-care business.

It appears the government got duped. Hale didn’t care for the kids at times she said she did, nor did the mom legitimately work, the Journal Sentinel found.

The newspaper spent four months investigating the $340 million taxpayer-financed child-care system known as Wisconsin Shares and uncovered a trail of phony companies, fake reports and shoddy oversight.

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Maybe investigative journalists — whether they work in newspapers, broadcast, or online — need to produce more of these “How We Did It” videos. They might help bridge the disconnect between the public perception of what reporters do, and the reality of what they do. “Investigative reporting requires a lot of shoe leather work — knocking on doors, tracking people down, and a lot of research,” Rutledge said in the video.

That kind of work takes time — and money.