Assistant Director Media Strategy, Lawrence Journal-World
When I was covering KU – the University of Kansas, higher education here – I received [a] package in the mail. It had a bunch of stamps on it – was very strange looking. I had a busy day. I set it aside until the end of the day. I picked it up, looked inside it and realized that in the mail I have received a great number of confidential student documents along with a letter that some individual said that these things were just being thrown into recycling for anyone to recover, and they included Social Security numbers, student ID numbers – all sorts of information.
So I started making some calls, talked to the University – they were very upset, very defensive. They wanted the information back; said there wasn’t a story; we had no business having them, etc.
The University tried to make the story about us refusing to give them the documents back. But we persevered, pressed through, published. [It] became a major story around the region and the University made changes – you know, locked bins, policies for handling confidential student information, offered credit checks to the people whose information had been made available.
And really seeing how the University changed because of that story, because of the work that we had done, it was really powerful. Because it’s something that really had a positive change for our community. Because these aren’t the only people whose information was mishandled or was carelessly handled, and there’s the potential for people’s identity to be stolen because of actions like that.
And so we were able to see that positive change, very quickly, because of the story that we did and the reporting that we told.
You know, anecdotally, I would walk around offices up on campus for the next couple of weeks, and I would see new shredders coming out of boxes all the time. Because everyone had gotten the memo that you’re going to treat these documents properly, you’re going to treat them with care, because people’s lives and livelihoods could be damaged if you mishandle them.
And so watching them do that, watching the contracts that they signed to properly handle and dispose of these documents was really heartwarming because it does hold a large institution accountable, and it makes a positive change that really help’s makes our audience’s life better.