News Articles by Drew Sullivan
Here is a sample of stories I worked on for
both the AP and the
Tennessean. I've included investigative, CAR and daily stories.
Wild Horse program: I did the analysis and a good share of the reporting on this project traveling to Wyoming and New Mexico. It won a slew of awards and gossip was that it was one of the last cuts on the Pulitzer. Martha was an Albuquerque based AP reporter at the time. She was following up what some horse advocates had been saying for years without proof -- that Bureau of Land Management employees were selling horses to slaughter houses for personal profit. Martha and two other national writers wrote the stories. We won the APME award and a few others on this effort.
The analysis including matching databases of horse adopters with an Office of Personnel Management database of Federal employees. Because of common names, we got thousands of hits. I used a series of filters and aggregate functions to find suspicious cases. On a search of employee types, I found a relatively rare occupation (wrangler) accounting for a lot of adoptions. On examination, the wranglers all came from an area in southern Wyoming. By matching addresses of those wranglers and last names in the same city, I found family members and friends adopting horses as well. These employees became the focus of the story and the basis for our visit to Wyoming. While waiting for Martha, I checked court records at the local courthouse on a whim and found a divorce case for our biggest adopter. The ex-wife spilled the whole story.
We followed up on the story after some BLM employees leaked us some documents. My role was to examine some 3,000 documents, all of which had been entered in evidence to a Grand Jury. I created a database and timeline and by reading and rereading every document, we figured out essentially what was happening.
Here are the results of the investigations:
Short Investigative Project
Tobacco growing doctors: The idea for this piece on doctors who grow tobacco came from our Pikeville, Kentucky correspondent. We used a database from the Department of Agriculture of tobacco quotas and matched it with state databases of doctors collected from large tobacco states. We verified each match by calling the doctors. The piece won some awards as well.
Children for hire:We won an APME and a score of other awards for this piece on child labor in America. My role was to look for evidence of illegal children in governmental databases. We looked at the Department of Labors tracking system database, state level databases and workers compensation databases. What we found was not very encouraging and it actually became part of the story (see Martha's piece). The government did not track the worst kinds of child labor, undocumented child agricultural workers, deciding instead to monitor how many hours white, teenage busboys worked at Jewel.
Daily CAR story
Campaign contributions: I'm proud of this effort because the reporter, Brendan Riley, and I turned it around in about 8 hours including downloading the data, cleaning it and doing a quick analysis. The story created quite a stir in Nevada.
Quick turn CAR story
This was a followup to the school test score series we did. I think it's a pretty good combination of CAR and reporting. The idea came from reading the literature on problems with test scores. I wanted to see if Tennessee was susceptible and it looks like it was. This story could have been made a little clearer in retrospect.
Tennessee's own Lake Wobegon: Too many kids test above average - Sunday, 12/12/99
Quick turn investigative story
Dirty arena: The projects team editor heard about this story from a few friends and wanted me to do a quick turn story on this topic. The initial story wasn't remarkable but I built into a better story by developing sources and checking out everything.
Arena upkeep under fire - Thursday, 4/6/2000
Daily story follow-up
Sports board to look at arena's condition - Friday, 4/7/2000
You dig into something long enough and you'll find an okay story. I had a number of employees off the records telling me they were over charging the city. There was no way to prove it because the paperwork was doctored. The only way to prove this was to show a discrepancy between those working and the amount being billed.
The "audit" in the lead was actually prompted by my reporting. We back into this story in a strange way. In essence, we created the story and then we used their response to our questions as the lead. It was not my idea but the editors wanted a "newsier" peg.
Arena's cleaning costs under scrutiny - Tuesday, 5/16/2000
Cleaning pay flows through several subcontractors - Tuesday, 5/16/2000 (side bar)
The results were rather unsatisfactory because the scope of the audit was not very deep and too many records were missing. However, the company admitted to not being able to document their billings.
Audit confirms arena cleaners overbilled city - Saturday, 7/22/2000
Quick turn investigative story
I liked this story but I felt it was a better profile than a hard news piece. The story came about when I was talking to a researcher in the library. She told me about a group that was collecting money in her neighborhood. She a half-dozen reporters about the story but none took her seriously. I said I would check it out and the next weekend I drove down to Antioch to see what was happening. I got the name of the church but I could find no such organization in Nashville. A Web search turned up Better Business Bureau warnings about the church in Texas and Maine. I got the green light to look into them deeper.
Donations go to church that acknowledged fraud
Church earned praise until felony conviction
Quick turn investigative story
This investigation was generated through source development
Health Web site called 'protection racket'; state investigating - Sunday, 8/06/00
CAR on the beat
This was a quick turn story (about two days) analyzing presidential campaign data.
Tennessee ranks high in campaign funding
Enterprise off the beat
This was a "special report" I did as a weekend enterprise piece while covering the beat. I like pieces that explain big problems that are so mundane people often ignore them.
Trying to keep high and dry - Sunday, 2/7/99
Group weathering a storm - Monday, 2/8/99
Storm-water problems have lengthy roots - Monday, 2/8/99
Flooding problems won't be simple or cheap to fix - Tuesday, 2/9/99
Daily story example
This daily story was my two cents during the Columbine shooting craze.
Schools actually getting safer, statistics show