IndyStar reporter who broke Nassar scandal to speak at GVSU

By James Kilborn | 3/22/18 2:57am

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GVL / Courtesy - hub.kelley.iupui.edu

Grand Valley State University will host the return of journalism alumna Marisa Kwiatkowski, who will share her experience breaking the Larry Nassar/USA Gymnastics story while working as an investigative reporter with The Indianapolis Star.

Kwiatkowski will speak Monday, March 26, at 6 p.m. in the DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium, located on GVSU’s Pew Campus. The same day at 1 p.m., she will participate in a Q&A session at the Keller Black Box Theatre in the Haas Center for Performing Arts. The talk is titled “Local Reporting, National Impact: Marisa Kwiatkowski on Breaking the USA Gymnastics Story.” The event is sponsored by the GVSU School of Communications.

The story has dominated all facets of media and resulted in the USA Gymnastics board resigning, as well as Michigan State University’s athletic director and president stepping down.

“The impact on this project has been tremendous,” said Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at GVSU. “You’ve seen it in the impact statements of more than 150 young women and some of their family members made in the conviction of Larry Nassar, the resignation of the president and the athletic director at Michigan State, the resignation of the board of USA Gymnastics, the passage of legislation—the list goes on and on. 

"This has been an incredibly impactful investigation that is really the result of Ms. Kwiatkowski staking out investigative territory where she’s very committed to bringing the voices of vulnerable people out.”

Kwiatkowski's breaking of the story has shaken up the world of athletics, bringing to light a scandal that might have otherwise gone unknown.

“If it had not been for Ms. Kwiatkowski’s investigation, would we have ever known?” said Len O'Kelly, assistant professor of multimedia journalism. “Think of some of these big stories just in Michigan that have broken: the Nassar case, the Flint water crisis, things that happen in schools that we never find out about. If there’s nobody there to tell the story for those people, the story’s never going to be told.”

Kwiatkowski, as well as the rest of the team at the IndyStar, had to work arduously to break the story.  

“Here’s a story that Marisa came upon via a tip about some legal filings happening in another state, and she jumped on it,” said Eric Harvey, assistant professor of multimedia journalism. “Her and her colleagues acquired a lot of material that they were worried would be sealed after a particular lawsuit was filed. 

"Getting this information, slowly poring over it, figuring out what the stories are, and responsibly contacting and talking to victims, it’s exactly the type of thing journalists should be doing, which is holding people in power accountable, speaking up for people who might not have a voice. It really checks every box of what you want with good investigative journalism.”

Harvey sees Kwiatkowski’s message as an opportunity to encourage students to pursue their stories even if there are difficulties along the way.

“As a professor, you want students to understand that things don’t happen immediately, that stories like this take a lot of time and work and probably involve a lot of dead ends along the way," he said.

The professors within the multimedia journalism program see Kwiatkowski’s talk as an opportunity for students to hear from a professional within the field who has experience breaking a huge journalistic exposé.

“She went to Grand Valley, she took journalism and other humanities classes, she worked for the Lanthorn, she had an internship and then got a job with the Grand Haven Tribune, ... so it’s definitely possible to do that type of highly impactful work,” Kelly Lowenstein said. “It takes a lot of discipline, it takes a lot of precision, it takes a lot of dedication, and it takes a lot of willingness to believe the people that you’re talking to and then get the other information that can verify what they’re talking about.”

O'Kelly believes that Kwiatkowski can bring relevant, real-time information to students pursuing journalism or investigative work. 

“Any time they can hear someone working in the field and successful who’s willing to share about what it takes, I think there’s a big value right there,” O’Kelly said. “I worked in media for years—a lot of people in this program worked in media for years—but we’re not still working in it every day, and it’s changing so rapidly. 

"It’s always good to get the perspective from someone who’s in the trench right now and can tell us really what’s going on.”

Both of the events on Monday are free and open to the public. Attendance for the Q&A session is limited due to the size of the space, so it will be first come, first served. To RSVP for the talk downtown, visit www.facebook.com/events/167028970761514/

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