60th Anniversary: A look behind Fact Finder 12

Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:48:23 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 05 2013 11:56:17 AM CST

Infant car seats that risked serious injury to children during an accident. A roofing scam that left water pouring into a woman's home. Children forced to have unnecessary root canals, crowns and tooth extractions for millions of dollars of profit. These are a few of the thousands of cases that were solved by Channel 12's investigative team over the past 12 years.

Click here to see photos of Fact Finder 12 investigations over the years

"Our job is to be there to listen to people who don't have a voice," Fact Finder 12 reporter Michael Schwanke said. "They don't have money, they don't have the education, they don't have the right contacts. The role of investigative journalism is to give a voice to the voiceless." 

Fact Finder 12 Investigators receive hundreds of tips each year, but most investigations don't end up on the air. Schwanke says that 99% of cases are resolved by a reporter picking up the phone and asking a few questions. Doors that were closed for people with a problem often open when an investigative journalist calls.

Fact Finder 12 investigator and Assistant News Director Kim Wilhelm says the stories that end up on the newscast have been thoroughly investigated and meet the basic criteria of serving the greater good.

In January 2001 KWCH started it's investigative team. It was originally called the I-Team and headed up by former Assistant News Director Nickie Flynn. She says market research showed people felt that when something was wrong, things weren't getting solved. They wanted an investigative team.

"To do great investigative reporting, there has to be a wrong that people can perceive having been committed and there has to be a way to right it, even if righting it is simply bringing it to the public's attention," Flynn said. "But I believe great investigative reporting goes a step further, it brings about change."

KWCH investigations have resulted in laws being changed, millions of dollars being reimbursed to victims and people going to jail. But every case starts with the team asking questions and being transparent with those under investigation and later viewers about the process.

"We don't lie about what we're doing or why we're doing it," Wilhelm said. "I like to think that every story we do, especially an investigation, the people involved shouldn't be surprised when they see the end result because we've given them multiple times to answer that question."

"Hidden cameras and ambush style reporting are a last resort, if there's no other way to get the story," Schwanke said. "I've approached a person in an ambush style and that's only because we've called a dozen times, gone by their house and they dodge us."

Flynn says management at the station supported a culture of transparency and accountability during her tenure with The I-Team that later became known as Fact Finder 12 Investigators.

While many newsrooms around the country have given up investigative teams because of the resources it takes, KWCH remains committed to these stories.

"It is exhaustive on your staff," Schwanke said. "Hours are spent on the phone that could have been spent on a quicker story for the daily newscast. A lot of hours are spent on something you will never see on air."

Flynn says the station made a significant investment when they started their investigative team in 2001 but the work is essential to hold the powerful accountable.

"[Investigative journalism] plays a huge roll in our society because it is one of the checks and balances," Flynn says. "Open records and open meeting laws, those aren't for journalists, those are for the public. They strengthen the public's knowledge and make government more transparent in spending the taxpayers money."