Terror threats, drug use in the military, death on the job, child labor and politicians behaving badly are all tough subjects for journalists to tackle.
But under the guidance of ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross and his investigative team, they've all been examined by top graduate journalism students selected for the ABC News Summer Institute Carnegie Fellowship program.
Since the program began in 2005, 34 students from across the country have cycled through, receiving training in news ethics and reporting at the ABC News headquarters in New York before venturing off on reporting trips across the country.
"The Carnegie Fellowship helped launch my career," said program alum Robert Lewis, now a reporter with the Sacramento Bee in California. "The core reporting skills I had a chance to develop at ABC – digging into campaign finances, looking through court documents, tracking down sources in the field, and sifting through mounds of information – have proven invaluable on future stories."
This week's episode of "Brian Ross Investigates" looks back on the six investigative reports that the Carnegie Fellows have worked on.
In 2005, the first investigation examined dangerous materials at 25 U.S. college campuses that housed nuclear reactors for research. Ten graduate students set off around the nation, uncovering some extraordinary vulnerabilities. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT. After the story, officials for the Nuclear Regulatory agency announced they would investigative security at six of the sites visited by the students and acknowledged the value of the unannounced spot inspections by the ABC News teams, which the agency admitted it had never done itself.
In 2006, a new crop of five Carnegie Fellows also looked at a vulnerability terrorists could exploit to attack U.S. targets: the ability to purchase ammonium nitrate, a component used around the world in bombings and widely used in fertilizer. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT. After the investigation, the Department of Homeland Security announced new plans to regulate the selling and purchasing of ammonium nitrate. Now, prospective buyers and sellers must register with the agency and pass a terrorist screening.
In 2007, a group of six Carnegie Fellows set out to investigate whether the huge drug problems that had plagued veterans of the Vietnam War were affecting soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Traveling to military towns around the country, the students documented inside stories from soldiers themselves. Again and again they heard the same story: young Americans who said they joined the military drug free, but began to use and abuse drugs in Iraq or when they got home as a direct result of the pain and trauma of war. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT.
The next year of the Carnegie program, 2008, began with a startling fact: more Americans die on the job every year than have been killed in all of the years of the war in Iraq. The most recent statistics show there's an average of about 14 deaths a day in workplaces across the country. To find out what was happening on the ground and why, four Carnegie Fellows went out in the field. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT.
In 2009, a group of four Carnegie Fellows examined child labor issues happening right here in the U.S. Despite, with a rare few exceptions, it being against the law for children under the age of 12 to work in major agricultural operations, the team found the law was widely ignored and poorly enforced, especially in America's blueberry fields. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT. After the investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor announced enforcement actions against a dozen blueberry farms in New Jersey, Michigan and North Carolina, and levied fines against Adkin.
In the most recent year of the Carnegie Fellows program, 2010, five graduate students investigated how politicians behave when no one is watching. All too often, the statehouse is a forgotten part of American government. Yet the country's state legislators have huge power, controlling more than $1 trillion in taxes and spending and laws that affect everyone. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT.
In this week's episode of "Brian Ross Investigates," student Alyssa Newcomb, from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, discusses the inappropriate behavior she experienced by Puerto Rican lawmaker Jorge Navarro during a national convention of state legislators this summer in Louisville, Kentucky.
"He would just not leave me alone. I put my hand up and I said 'please can you back away, stop.' He didn't get the message, and it was really a difficult situation," Newcomb told Brian Ross via Skype. "I was in shock that it was happening. It was really unbecoming behavior of a lawmaker."
In a statement to ABC News, Navarro denied any misconduct, and said he got close to the student to understand her, since the music was loud and he doesn't speak English well.
Newcomb said other challenges of the project included obtaining undercover video, getting cooperation from the FBI and other agencies, and reaching out to the politicians that were examined in the report. The experience, while at times daunting she said, was very valuable.
"It was really exciting and a good experience for me to kind of bring back this type of journalism that we really need," Newcomb said.
The 34 alums of the Carnegie Fellows program, which is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, are now working around the world.
Many have stayed with ABC News: Dana Hughes, '05, is a digital reporter based in Nairobi, Africa. Tahman Bradley, '06, is a digital reporter in Washington, DC. Angela Hill, '07, and Megan Chuchmach, '08, are both producers for the investigative unit in New York. Kate McCarthy, '07, is a producer for Good Morning America, and Melia Patria, '05, and Karson Yiu, '05, are both producers for Nightline.
Elsewhere, Brooks Jarosz, '08, is a reporter with an NBC affiliate in Charleston, West Virginia. Robert Lewis, '07, is a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, working in investigative pieces both local and statewide in scope. David Schneider, '07, is an anchor/reporter/producer with an NBC affiliate in Burlington, Vermont. And Jim Matheny, '06, is a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee.