How did the idea for the project come about?
In the spring semester, a team of student journalists and I investigated what happens to felons in Florida once they leave prison. One large component of that was voting rights: Florida was one of three states that permanently stripped felons of their right to vote for life. This particular nugget really captured my interest, as I love covering politics and policy, so a handful of us continued pursuing that segment even further throughout the summer.
On top of all of that, Amendment 4 on the statewide ballot could change this existing policy. By the time we hit fall, we knew we could produce a full half-hour special on the topic.
What did the planning process look like?
We had four executive producers on this project: Laurel Biddy, Dolores Hinckley, Meredith Sheldon and myself. The four of us were part of the spring project, Locked Out: Florida, and were very knowledgeable on the topic. We recruited about 10-15 people to help us get interviews, find data and do research/logging on the project, as well as three dedicated editors. We set our deadlines earlier than they needed to be, so we would have enough time to push them if needed.
We reached out to sources, attended relevant meetings and logged more than 100 hours of clemency hearings under Florida Gov. Rick Scott. I spent my summer interning in Washington, D.C., and was actually able to meet with the legal team behind part of the controversy while I was there to see what information they had uncovered through subpoenas in addition to what the state gave us.
Did you use any tools to plan, stay organized or streamline communication?
I'm a huge fan of Google Docs and Facebook groups. We had a master spreadsheet with a bunch of tabs: contact sheets, deadlines, progress, interviews, sources, footage logs, etc. Having one document where everything for the project was contained was super helpful to find what you needed. The Facebook group was our primary form of communication, in addition to a group chat, just so everyone could share interesting articles on the topic or ask questions and easily interact.
What did you learn about project management? What would you do differently next time?
This project was really a passion project for me: It was a topic I heavily researched in the spring and was thrilled to do a whole special on for the fall semester. However, I got an incredible internship offer and ended up spending the semester in New York City. Managing the project from a different state with a full-time job presented many challenges, including scheduling meetings, making sure everyone was meeting their individual deadlines and not being able to help our team face-to-face.
Many of my colleagues pulled numerous all-nighters in the newsroom to meet our deadlines, and I wish we had more time or planning on the front end to prevent the lack of sleep towards the end. I also wish we had time to train our researchers more ahead of time so they could have helped with the more advanced tasks toward the end.
What are you most proud of about the project?
I'm most proud of the results we got: We were able to produce our own data and statistics, such as finding that Scott denied 61 percent of restoration of civil rights cases on the spot. On election night, I received multiple messages from sources and viewers who thanked us for the work we did as Amendment 4 passed and most Florida felons regained their right to vote. I'm also really proud that as a group of students, we were able to pull off a 30-minute special tackling such a complex and important issue.