23 Aug 2011

The Author

Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.

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Inside the Investigation: On Sources, Confidentiality, & Process
I’ve been doing research on Guatemalan adoptions since 2008, which grants me the privilege of having relationships with my sources that are based on trust built from repeated interviews, informal conversations, and interactions. Initially, I began general reporting on Guatemalan adoptions for my Master’s thesis at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in fall 2008, where I was a Fellow at the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting. After my thesis was awarded Honors, I graduated in 2009 and decided to continue my research in order to write “Finding Fernanda,” which will be published this October.

Over the past three years, I’ve spoken, emailed, and/or met in person with over 350 sources, and my reporting continues to this day. Certain sources, especially in Guatemala, have stuck their necks out by choosing to communicate with me– whether risking personal safety or their careers. I’ve met people at night, in discreet locations, and in secret for off-record lunches. As a journalist, I take the responsibility of protecting my sources very seriously– my first priority is to respect the trust and faith they’ve shown by their willingness to help me understand various issues and subjects.

While working in Guatemala, I’ve always reported side-by-side with a local journalist, using a buddy system for a few reasons: for safety, to ensure accurate comprehension while immersed in a foreign culture, and to make sure my interviews were translated exactly. I was extremely fortunate that my dear friend, Associated Press Guatemala City bureau chief Juan Carlos Llorca, was willing and able to help. This photo was taken by Mildred Alvarado, one of the main characters in Finding Fernanda, in August 2010:

And to be a bit more factual, most of the time we were working together we looked more like this:

That is to say: completely absorbed in comparing notes, conflicting accounts, and multiple leads. Most of the time we probably looked sort of confused. We collected an incredible amount of information. I’m lucky that Juan Carlos is one of my best friends and favorite people, so working 14-hour days together was actually enjoyable. We found that an integral part of investigating such difficult subject matter involved cracking lots of dumb jokes to keep the mood light.

ON SOURCES:

Various people and institutions in Guatemala have provided information to me; including sources from CICIG, the Ministerio Público, the PGN, independent investigators, lawyers, adoption facilitators, hogar directors, foster mothers, birth mothers, cab drivers, alleged criminals, the Archivo General de Protocolos, judges, NGO’s, and various others. Sources have sent me emails with spreadsheets and databases, have handed me photocopies of legal deposition, and allowed me to photograph stacks of court documents that include emails, lab results, and more.

In the United States, I’ve spoken with various officials from the COA, the Office of Children’s Issues, the Adoption Unit at the State Department, adoptive parents, adoption agency staffers and former staffers, social workers, NGO’s, advocacy organizations like CCAI, GuatAdopt, and JCICS, journalists, doctors, and various others. I’ve also attended adoption events, including the 2009 Adoptive Parents Committee conference in NYC and the 2009 Adoption Law and Policy Conference at New York Law School.

I’ve filed around 40 federal public records requests here in the United States, including to the FBI, the US Embassy, the Department of Homeland Security, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services. I’ve also filed public record requests at the Organismo Judicial (Archivo General de Protocolos) and the Ministerio Público in Guatemala, and have filed numerous public records requests to various agencies in the state of Florida.


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