Trending This Week: Pink Slime and Survival Games

11 Mar 2013

Reuters Special Reports investigate fast moving stories from a multitude of angles, examining the back stories, context and future ramifications with well-written ‘long-form’ reporting. They often lift the veil on a story by telling the hidden, inside story, beyond the basic facts and using the perspective of days and weeks of reporting.

Released this week, two of our Special Reports have been particularly popular due to their ability to expose and bring to light multiple counts of corporate questionable behavior and activities. Learn more about each report below.

Did Diane Sawyer Smear ‘Pink Slime’? by P.J. Huffstutter and Martha Graybow

Plant workers produce lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) at the Beef Products Inc (BPI) facility in South Sioux City. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom A year ago, Beef Products Inc. had four state-of-the art plants, more than 1,300 employees and was expanding aggressively. The meat company was the leading maker of “lean finely textured beef,” a low-fat product made from chunks of beef, including trimmings, and exposed to tiny bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other dangerous contaminants. Few Americans realized the product was a mainstay of fast-food burgers, school lunch tacos and homemade meatloaf. Today, Beef Products Inc.’s revenues have plummeted from more than $650 million to about $130 million a year, and three of its plants are shuttered. Company officials blame the abrupt falloff on a series of ABC News broadcasts that began last March – stories that repeatedly called its product “pink slime” – and have hired a high-powered Chicago trial lawyer to slap ABC News, star anchor Diane Sawyer and other defendants with a 27-count lawsuit that seeks at least $1.2 billion in damages.

P.J Huffstutter, gave us some exclusive insight into capturing this story:

“The decision to pair up an agriculture/enterprise reporter (me) and a legal reporter/editor (Martha) really helped us expand the reporting expertise when covering a lawsuit as massive as this one. (It is 257-pages long, after all.) I understood the farm sector. Martha understood the legal community. And both of us, clearly, have experience in the media world. So we were able to play off each other’s strengths – which helped focus the reporting and balance the story.

Reuters had been chasing after BPI for months, trying to persuade the typically reticent company to talk to us. The founder, Eldon Roth, has spent the bulk of his life safeguarding his family’s and business’ lore by generally avoiding the mainstream media. In the wake of the ABC broadcasts and the general media coverage over “lean finely textured beef” last spring, Roth and his family felt that no good could come from breaking that tradition.

Martha and I figured out pretty quickly that we could only crack this story if we simply refused to go away. We kept contacting BPI and ABC, over and over, with requests to sit down for an interview. Phone calls. Emails. More phone calls. More emails. All the while, we scoured the filings in this case and expanded our search to other public documents. Sometimes, the digging uncovered the name of a source – who led us to other sources. Sometimes, it was random reference to other legal disputes, which then led us search through other courthouses.

Eventually, BPI agreed to talk on the record– as long as we met in person. And someday, we hope, so will ABC.”

Download full Special Report.


Survival Games by Sharon Begley and Robin Respaut

Keith Hilborn holds a photo of his wife at his daughter's home in Summerville. REUTERS/Jason CohnVicky Hilborn died of cancer in 2009 after attempting and failing to get oncology treatment from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). CTCA trumpets that its patients do better than national averages. This Special Report examines CTCA’s survival numbers and its statistical methodology, exposing that the company’s numbers aren’t what they seem.

Reuters Journalist on the story, Sharon Begley explains, “We started off simply thinking that CTCA was an interesting company, and only several weeks in did we realize that the survival numbers they report might be misleading. The challenge was to tell a story that turned on really abstruse technical points—things like regression analyses and break points and lead time bias—in a way that regular readers could understand. ”

Download full Special Report.