As traditional subscription and advertising revenue streams for the news media continue to shrink, print and digital publishers must grapple with de-emphasizing investigative reporting for flashier, less-substantive stories to entice audiences. However, Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Sam Ward believes that hard-hitting stories can still engage the public, and he works to prove his point daily.
Ward is senior digital producer for The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal news site, where he oversees the web team. Reveal combines long-term news investigations with a weekly radio program, animations, comic books, podcasts and even live theater production.
Reveal users on average download more than 1 million podcasts each month, and the nonprofit’s content reaches audiences through more than 300 outlets, including CNN, Fox News, NPR, PBS and Univision. The center has garnered Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting; twice they have been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
“Investigative journalism really focuses on exposing wrongdoing and looking at that deeply. It gives you a platform to hold people accountable,” Ward said. “In the current news environment, it’s something that’s sorely needed.”
There is a place for the lighter fare as well, he added.
“Sometimes you can just feel like you’re trying to get people to eat their broccoli all the time,” Ward said, regarding the challenge of informing a busy public. “But people only have an appetite for so much broccoli each day.”
Ward joined Reveal five years ago to launch an investigative journalism and documentary video YouTube channel, having previously worked for Oregon Public Broadcasting. At Reveal, he guides reporters, photographers and app designers to produce the news for Reveal’s digital platforms.
One of Ward’s former colleagues is Fernando Diaz, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Managing Editor, Digital. Diaz was Reveal’s Senior Editor from 2014 until last month. He recalled that Ward is often the last person to touch a piece before it goes live at Reveal, and that he frequently serves as lead designer on projects.
“Sam is a bit of a renaissance guy in his role because he touches so many parts of the operation,” Diaz said. “He’s a lynchpin of Reveal’s digital effort.”
When CMU professor emeritus Patricia Bellan-Gillen reviewed Ward’s CMU art portfolio in the late 1980s, she knew he possessed skills beyond good technique.
Bellan-Gillen noted that Ward’s magazine work required him to write, draw, edit and circulate his publications — and develop and research ideas fueling the work.
“Sam had qualities that you can’t teach a person — a strong enthusiasm for making art and an innate understanding that art can play an important role in one’s life,” she said.
As an undergraduate at CMU, Ward concentrated his studies in intermedia/multimedia and earned his degree from the College of Fine Arts in 1992. He then completed a program sponsored by Apple and Kodak, an early incubator for professionals in the burgeoning field of digital media.
Ward said there is “a direct through line” running from his CMU training in art and computers, through using the first versions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, through “pretty much my whole career since then.”
Today, he works at what he calls the forefront of an evolution of storytelling and investigative reporting where he says he is driven to help provide creative, in-depth content that empowers the public.
“Unfortunately, there is an inexhaustible supply of injustice in this world,” said Ward. “However, I think there is an equal amount of creativity and drive to correct it. I’m lucky enough to work with people dedicated to doing that.”