If you're looking for proof that quality journalism can make a difference, just ask the thousands of young swimmers who no longer fear sexual abuse from their coaches.
An issue that once forced athletes across the country to suffer in silence has been given a voice thanks to reform inspired by Megan Chuchmach's investigative reporting.
A 2007 graduate of The University of Western Ontario’s Media, Information and Technoculture program, Chuchmach produced "The Coach"s Secret," a two-part ABC News 20/20 investigation revealing the cover-up of sexual abuse by USA Swimming coaches. Reported by chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, the story went on to win this year's DuPont Award, television journalism’s most prestigious prize. The DuPont award is comparable to the Pulitzer Prize, the winners representing the best in broadcast journalism. This year’s 13 recipients, announced Dec. 22, accepted their awards Jan. 20 in New York.
"I think the story was chosen because it had a lot of impact," Chuchmach says. Not only did the story prompt USA Swimming, the nation's governing body of swimming, to completely alter its athlete protection policies, but the U.S. Olympic Committee has also adopted new background screening policies for all 32 Olympic sports following its release.
Chuchmach, who pitched the idea to ABC and was heavily involved throughout the project, felt a strong connection to the topic. "The idea really hit me because it affected thousands and thousands across the country who got into the sport because they had Olympic dreams. They really dedicated their lives to the sport, and then their dreams were derailed because of what their coach had done."
Despite its dark subject matter, Chuchmach emphasized the importance of stories like "The Coach's Secret" which provide a voice to people who don't feel heard. "It was a wonderful story to work on because a lot of times victims just feel silenced. This way they had a chance to make sure no one else went through what they did."
Chuchmach's perspective on the story comes from a position of success in the industry. In addition to the DuPont award, she also received the Carnegie Fellowship after graduating as a top student in the Broadcast Journalism Program at Columbia.
The fellowship is awarded to four graduate students from across the country and includes the opportunity to work with an investigative team for 10 weeks. From this experience she was hired at ABC where she currently works as a producer.
"The Western community offers so many opportunities to get outside of the classroom. It really helped me to develop strong writing skills and allowed me to see so many different aspects of the media world," Chuchmach says, emphasizing the value of getting involved.
From where she stands today, Chuchmach couldn't be happier with the way her most recent success has played out. "When there is change after your story airs, that's the most fulfilling part of the job. It's the feeling of knowing that all of the long hours and the work that you dedicated really paid off."
Read the complete story: Western News
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