EXPOSÉ: America's Investigative Reports
EXPOSÉ 2008 Season
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On left, Emmett Dunn, Manchester, TX resident; on right, cameraman Bill McCullough and producer Mike DeWitt
The Q&A

MIKE DEWITT is an award-winning producer and writer of cultural, historical and public affairs programming. In addition to working for EXPOSÉ and PBS, he has produced for A&E, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and others.

"The Scientific Method" is DeWitt's third documentary for EXPOSÉ. DeWitt's first documentary for the series was "Becoming the Story", about the San Francisco Chronicle journalists who covered the steroid scandal and were nearly thrown in jail themselves for not revealing their sources. DeWitt also produced "An Inside Job," which follows veteran NPR reporter Daniel Zwerdling and his investigation into the abuse of immigrant detainees in U.S. prisons.

Q: You've had a lot of experience producing different kinds of programs for public, cable and network television, and now are in the process of producing your third documentary for EXPOSÉ. What's unique about producing for this series?

A: Producing for EXPOSÉ has been a thrill for me because it's the first time I've really reported on reporters. It's an experience that is intensely interesting, exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at the same time. While you always want to be prepared, professional and on your game, one feels a particular obligation to do so when you are sitting down with the subjects of these pieces who are some of the best journalists out there. You want to ask good, probing, thoughtful, tough questions. You want them to know you've done your homework. As a journalist, working for EXPOSÉ has been a truly special opportunity for me to hear first-hand from top practitioners of our craft -- to learn from them and be inspired by them. I am blown away by the passion, idealism and integrity I have seen in every person we have profiled. It makes be proud to be part of this profession.

Q: What is most striking about each of the investigators you covered?

A: Houston Chronicle environment writer Dina Cappiello, "The Scientific Method":

Dina Cappiello started out after college as a teacher. And once you spend any time with her, you can see the teacher in her come out. She loves explaining things, breaking something down -- without dumbing it down -- so people can understand it. It's a great quality. She wants you to know facts about the world around you both because she thinks you are better off knowing those facts -- and also, on some level, just because she thinks it's neat! You can sense her enthusiasm as she makes a point. And you can see how hard she works to put things in a context that you can understand. OK, you don't understand what X parts per X million means? How about this: living in this community is like sitting on the New Jersey Turnpike 24 hours a day. Like any good teacher, Dina teaches you things in a way you never forget them.

A: San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, "Becoming the Story":

I met Mark and Lance just days after a federal judge sentenced them to spend 16 months in jail for refusing to name a source. They were free while they appealed their case, and it was an extraordinary time to be with them. They both were calm and joked around with me and each other, but there was a clear sense of tension in the air... We can talk all we want about having a free press, but until I spent a couple days with these guys I never truly understood what was truly at stake...I was moved by the calm, confident way both men stood up for their beliefs -- despite the possible consequences. It was a truly compellingstory to work on -- trying to comprehend the big-picture freedom-of-the-press issues that were at stake, while also seeing these two men and sensing their fear that they might be taken away from their families for more than a year. (Click here to watch this story.)

A: NPR reporter Daniel Zwerdling of "An Inside Job":

One of the cool things Danny does in his NPR stories is that he narrates his process. You can learn a lot about journalism by just listening to his pieces. He tells you what government official he tried to contact, what the secretary told him, how long it took for someone to get back to him. You really get a full picture of the run-around reporters get when they are just trying to get a simple piece of information. It's a very effective technique. Many of his stories are about holding government officials accountable for their actions. By telling us in detail about all the stonewalling that goes on when a reporter tries to pursue a story, he paints an accurate and sometimes infuriating picture of the way government officials typically avoid accountability by hiding behind the bureaucracy. (Click here to watch the story.)

Q: What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face so far in producing for EXPOSÉ?

A: Figuring out how to put the little accent over the 'e'.

Real answer: the stories these reporters have written are complex, detailed pieces that have taken months of work and tons of research. For them, distilling all that work into a 5-part newspaper series, for example, may feel like a big undertaking. Putting it into a 30 minute documentary is an even bigger editing challenge. The hardest part of this job is taking a very interesting, multi-faceted story and compressing it into a half hour -- without losing the impact of the original reporting. In addition to that, I feel it's important that the viewer gets a sense of who these reporters are and learns at least something about the craft of journalism. Each person I covered works in a different way. Looking at this series as a whole will give people a taste of the many ways journalists pursue their craft. Balancing the story of the reporter with the story of the investigation is a tough but rewarding challenge.

Photo: On left, Emmett Dunn, Manchester, TX resident; on right, cameraman Bill McCullough and producer Mike DeWitt. Credit: Mike DeWitt

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Debra Prophet