Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Bente Birkeland
Public radio news seeks to be consequential. Fact-based journalism engenders trust.  But the search for facts takes investigative skills, time, money and a concerted effort. 

These are the qualities that have made Bente Birkeland one of the best investigative reporters in the country.

Birkeland will honored by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) with a Sigma Delta Chi award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting. 

The award will be presented June 8th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.  More information about the event is available here

Steve Lebsock

Last year Birkeland uncovered the story about Colorado Representative Steve Lebsock, who allegedly harassed, intimidated or made unwanted sexual advances against nine legislators, staffers and lobbyists. The reports led to Lebsock’s resignation, the first by a Colorado state representative in over 100 years.

Birkeland reports for KUNC, based in Greeley, and Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a coalition of Community Radio stations in Colorado. She has covered Colorado politics for over ten years.

Since her first report about Lebsock aired on KUNC in November 2017 she has broken similar stories detailing a pervasive sexualized culture at the statehouse in Denver. You hear Birkeland’s report on KUNC’s website [link].

In a recent interview with Corey Hutchins from the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), Birkeland said she learned about the Lebsock situation organically [link]. 

She told CJR the sequence of events behind her reporting:

Birkeland:  I was reading national things about some other statehouses and just started thinking, “I wonder if there’s a problem here.”

“I just started talking to folks about the general culture and things just started coming up. For that first story everyone mentioned Lebsock to me—all these different people that I talked to independently talked about him.”

”I started corroborating things on background. I did a lot of reporting before I ever reached Faith Winter [the lawmaker who eventually went on the record about Lebsock].

“It’s very, very delicate, and it’s how you come at the story and how you talk to the sources, how you go back to them, how you make them feel comfortable. They have to trust you. You go back 20 to 30 times getting more information and more details.”

The Colorado Statehouse in Denver
“This job is very, very stressful. You’re on pins and needles if someone’s going to get back to you and you go back to people so many times. Are they going to give you more? This reporting goes through an attorney, it’s very, very, very highly vetted. There cannot be any hole, any crack”.

“I told a lobbyist, ‘I wonder why no one has ever reported this,’ and she said, ‘No one has ever asked us before.”’

Birkeland’s reporting also won an award for Best Investigative Reporting from the Associated Press.

KEN SAYS: The point of this post is that investigative reporting takes a commitment of money and time. Birkeland’s excellent reporting was made possible by her employer, KUNC. This investment made consequential journalism possible.

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