Everyone knows Sara Ganim and Sally Jenkins from the debacle of the last few months. Ganim is the star reporter from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who broke the Sandusky scandal with hustle and determination. Jenkins is the Washington Post reporter who was granted Joe Paterno's final interview, shortly before his death. They spoke at the Associated Press Sports Editors meeting in State College yesterday, and here are some of the highlights.
Thanks again to all who tweeted the happenings, including Sara Ganim herself, who was tweeting like whoa during Jenkins' remarks. And if anything is misquoted, blame Twitter.
- Jenkins on the process of starting writing: What did it sound like? What did it look like? Those questions led her to discussing the family dinner. She said there were a lot of constrictions in the interview but she was invited back for a Paterno family dinner off the record. The off-the record-dinner was a big deal for her because it helped her tell a story. At dinner, she realized that Paterno could not eat. That was where Sue told the story about the firing phone call.
- Her big fear was that Paterno would be coached for the interview. Scott Paterno said that they'd better schedule within a couple of weeks due to the obviously health concerns. She said the normal rules of interviewing didn't apply because they weren't sure how long Paterno would last.
- The Paterno family was considering a Barbara Walters interview, but decided that Joe couldn't go on television. The story fell into their lap because the Washington Post hadn't pissed them off as much.
- A big challenge for her was asking Paterno necessary questions with basic human decency, as he was in his home, surrounded by family, and in poor health.
- Her father wrote a profile of Paterno in 1967 when he was a rising star. Her dad liked him but thought he was kind of a hypocrite. He also thought it was a pity how Paterno was fired.
- Paterno came perilously close to fulfilling her fear that he just wouldn't say anything, but broke the ice in the interview by cracking wise. Once Paterno cracked first joke things got better.
- Jenkins debated how to ask the inevitable "eff you" question -- the point of an interview where person either answers or says "f**k you, get out."
- When Paterno said he hadn't heard of "rape and a man" it was the third rail. Then Paterno admitted he backed away. "I just backed away" was huge, she said. She wishes she'd followed up on "rape and a man" and could have listened more closely. However, she believed it when he said it, and believes he believed it when he said it. She said you can't over-worry about what you ask and what you don't. It's the nature of the business and it happens to everyone.
- Jenkins wrote the 130-inch Paterno story written with an interview transcript and video stand-up within 24 hours. She pulled an all-nighter. A Washington post editor told her to go broad with interview, which she said was incredibly smart advice. She was told to write as if it was for a magazine.
- Some of the background of Paterno lecturing a motorist, and player arrests were cut from story. Jenkins was fine with that.
- Jenkins hasn't spoken to the Paterno family since her story. The Paterno family's PR person said he wanted more sympathy, but settled for fair. Paterno wanted to give his perspective, but his lawyers and PR flak didn't want him to give it. She felt bad that the last meal he family had together, a reporter, photographer, lawyer and PR flak were also at the table.
- It was the most pressure she ever felt on a story. She stated that "you have to stand by your work. There's no shame in admitting sometimes you miss it on one question, but you do your best."
- Ganim is a PSU graduate and was teaching an adjunct journalism class at Penn State when the story broke. She learned to compartmentalize. She was working on Sandusky background on nights and weekends at the Centre Daily Times, prior to taking her current job in Harrisburg. Small-paper staffing issues slowed her. She has pride in PSU, but that didn't cloud her telling the truth.
- She's very curious to see what US attorney's office has to say on Penn State and thinks they'll want to look as thoroughly as possible.
- Alumni opinion of Penn State in-state is far more favorable in-state than nationally. Penn State will deal with stigma a long time. There are sleepless nights trying to figure how it ends, and it may not be with the Sandusky trial.
- Ganim hasn't written a non-Sandusky/PSU story since the initial story broke. She feels a little guilty about that but has learned a lot.
- Her worst hate mail before the Sandusky story was a story on a Nittany Lion mascot DUI.
- She realized Sandusky story is bigger than previously thought by time they got to Victim 8 in Grand Jury presentment.
- The least amount of exploration in the story regarding Sandusky and Second Mile is the pre-1990s.
- Ganim had to talk to some people 3-5 times before they'd admit to misleading her. Needed lots of in-person reporting.