Fox 8, the most watched news channel in New Orleans, and its chief investigative journalist, Lee Zurik, broadcast many informative stories to the population of the greater New Orleans area. While news coverage in the area often consists of severe weather, events, and crime, Zurik explains that “my favorite thing to report on, investigation wise, is government accountability.” Zurik further says, “I always try to report on topics that uncover something, I try to get stories out that have the power to help people”.
Such examples of the stories Zurik eludes to in the New Orleans area are Drained, an investigation on the millions of dollars the New Orleans government owes to citizens, Talking Trash, a story that exposed the stark differences in waste collection contracts, and Cracking the Code, a story that unveiled price disparities in insurance and medical billing.
With Zurik’s stories presenting such accuracy and detail, many find themselves curious as to how he produces such prominent stories. The first step to the process is finding a topic, which often involves getting “tips” from others about potential stories. Zurik explains these leads may come from his regular sources, tips sent into the newsroom, or simply spurred by his own curiosity. Zurik comments on the importance of “keeping up with the news, staying curious, and always asking questions.”
As a well established journalist, Zurik has developed many credible sources to gather information from. Zurik explains he has about a dozen sources he talks to daily. “Sources are like friends as they take time and investment. I have to keep up with them, such as calling them even when I don’t need information so they continue to feel comfortable divulging information to me,” says Zurik.
“While sometimes sources come to us, it’s really important for my team and I to get out there and meet people in order to make connections,” says Zurik. While many sources are trusted citizens, he also has some consistent “personal sources that nobody knows about besides me,” he said.
When asked what investigative story felt the most successful to him, Zurik recalls “Cracking the Code”, where he exposed insurance companies in the area for overcharging clients for certain medication and services. The cash prices in comparison, were a small percentage of the price that insurers were charging. The story essentially exposed health insurance companies for these wild costs, which overall were defeating the purpose of the insurance itself.
“The reason that story felt so rewarding is that it enacted visible change,” says Zurick. “I got a phone call from a single mother who told me that after watching my story, was now able to afford her young son’s medication out of pocket.” Zurich shares how gratifying the call was, and how helping people, whether it’s large scale or personal, made his work that much more important to him.
Zurik explains that to be a successful investigative journalist, you have to take your time with stories. He explains that while some stories turn over within a week, sometimes a story will take 2-3 months. In some cases, it can take even longer to collect all of the information needed, such as his investigative story Talking Trash that took almost 5 months to complete.
While many journalists prioritize being the first person to break a story, Zurik says “I don’t need to be the first to break a story, but I do need to be right.” If the story comes out and there is misinformation, much of Zurik’s hard work to achieve his acclaim in the world of news would be forgotten. He explains that “if a story I release is wrong, it could send me from the top all the way back to the bottom.” Zurik maintains his accuracy by using public records and his most trusted sources, and always fact checking.
Featured Image via Lee Zurik on Facebook.
1 thought on “How to Succeed in Investigative Journalism: An Interview with Lee Zurik”
So interesting! It’s awesome that you got to talk to a local journalist with such a passion for what he does!