Why Aren’t We Covering the Nassar Story?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 8:02 am
By: 
Alice Dreger, Publisher of ELi

ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols asked me yesterday to address a reader’s question about why we are not covering the Larry Nassar story. As is often the case when I explain something like this in response to a reader question, Ann and I have actually been discussing the issue on and off for a while—in this case, months. It often takes a reader poking usefully at us to get us to bring that behind-the-scenes ELi conversation to you. (It’s not that we don’t want to share these conversations with you; we just assume you come for news, not editorial mulling.)

The Nassar story is huge, appropriately. Last Friday afternoon, before I hit the road to drive home from an overnight work trip to Purdue University, I opened my phone to the other news sites I regularly read. These include the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and the Lansing State Journal. All of them were covering victim testimony against Nassar on their front pages. In the car, I heard more from Michigan Public Radio, NPR, and even the BBC. The BBC was broadcasting from Lansing.

Like a lot of people following this story, I appreciate journalists working to relay to us what the victims are saying. I also appreciate them informing us about what’s going on in this case in terms of the sentencing and the investigations into why so many girls and women were disbelieved and harmed.

Even if I had wanted to, as the reader who wrote to Ann noted, I couldn’t personally take on reporting this story because my spouse is in the senior administration of MSU’s College of Human Medicine; that’s not Nassar’s former college (Osteopathic Medicine), but it does put my spouse in the administration of a college that could end up becoming an integral part of however MSU decides to prevent future abuse.

But what about someone else in ELi taking it on—like Ann, who often does legal reporting for us? Or Roz Arch, who has an educational background in women's issues that prepares her well for reporting on the testimony? Or Jessy Gregg, who does investigative reporting for us and who knows how to report deeply and isn't afraid of big stories?

Ann and I talked months ago about the possibility of having her or another ELi reporter work on this. But there were three intertwined reasons not to:

  1. Great reporters are already on it. When we learned of the story, it was already being masterfully handled by the Indianapolis Star and the Lansing State Journal, and then soon after also the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press and others. We have very limited resources at ELi—I’m supposed to be fundraising right now because we are coming up short—and it is our practice not to expend them when solid professional reporters are doing a great job investigating and informing on an issue. The story wasn’t being ignored and it wasn’t being botched from what we could see.
  2. The story is much bigger than East Lansing. The Nassar case from the start involved other police departments, a County court, U.S.A. Gymnastics, and hundreds of people spread out over a wide area. We personally care very much about this case but there are lots of statewide and national stories we personally care a lot about that we don’t cover because it isn’t in ELi’s highly focused area. This is the same reason we don’t generally cover the governors’ race, why we didn’t cover the press conference of the new hospital being planned for Lansing land in a deal with MSU, and why we don’t report on what’s happening with MSU Football except to the extent big game days impact our City. (We would not be covering the planned visit by Richard Spencer to MSU's campus were it not for earlier substantial comments about it by City Council members and ELPD concerns that it might involve potential clashes off-campus in our city.)
  3. There's so much you (legitimately) want us to do. Our reporters, including me and Ann, are pretty much at our limit making sure we keep you covered on School Board, City Council, the City’s budget problems, elections, big development, and the like. We can’t really afford to turn our attention to a story that doesn’t need our labor when so many stories really do. We can’t do everything. If no one else was taking this story and doing it well, we would seriously consider stretching ELi outside of our borders and doing what needs doing. Fortunately, this story is understood by the regional, statewide, national, and international press to be one worth covering.

I’ll be at City Council for you tonight, most likely along with my two regular ELi Government reporting colleagues, Jessy Gregg and Chris Root. Why are we all three going? There is just so much to cover at City Council, the three of us go and split up the long list of what we think you would want to know.

We would never expect that ELi is the only news site you consult. So we’re not worried that you haven’t heard smart coverage of the Nassar case and the stories of his victims. We are also not worried that there will be a lack of press about the subsequent investigations that are coming.

We do worry that if we don’t keep covering what is going on in our City government, our School Board, our parks, and our downtown, you’ll never know. That's why ELi exists.

Count on us to still be here for you, reporting on what will never make the news otherwise, when Nassar goes to prison for life and the BBC goes home. Count on us, also, to keep reconsidering what you need us for. Please keep telling us what you want from ELi. We exist to do what's needed here in terms of real news delivery, so knowing what you want helps us do that job well.