Journalist spotlight: Megan Twohey on her investigative series on “The Child Exchange”
This week, Reuters published a stunning investigative series on “private re-homing” in America – an alarming practice where parents unload unwanted children whom they previously adopted. The series, the result of 18 months of work by Reuters investigative reporter Megan Twohey, exclusively reveals America’s underground market for adopted children, where parents are advertising their children in online forums and transferring custody with little to no regulation or oversight, leaving the children highly vulnerable to abusive situations.
In partnership with NBC News, the series was featured on multiple segments on NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News. Megan has also been interviewed by Voice of Russia Radio, PBS Newshour and multiple NPR programs, among many others – and the story has gone viral online, with dozens of mentions from news outlets around the world.
In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Megan offers an inside look at the extensive reporting behind her series.
Q. How did this story get started? What prompted you to look into “re-homing”?
A. I was interested in learning more about international adoption. As I researched online, I stumbled into these Yahoo groups where adoptive parents were soliciting new homes for their unwanted children. Once I saw these online groups, I was determined to learn more about re-homing.
Q. What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?
A. I spent years working as a local newspaper reporter and I applied many of those skills to this project. I gathered records from court houses, child welfare agencies and police departments across the country. I tracked down people identified in the reports and convinced them to talk to me on the record. I also worked with Reuters database reporter Ryan McNeill – who built a database that allowed us to process all 5,000 messages on a single re-homing Yahoo group. In the end, we were able to say that a child was being offered up for re-homing on the site on average once a week.
Q. What was the hardest part about reporting this story?
A. A critical breakthrough was getting a source at a child welfare agency to release confidential reports related to a re-homing case to me. Child welfare records are among the hardest documents to obtain.
Q. What is the process for working on such a deep investigation like this?
A. I can’t thank Reuters enough for giving me 18 months to work on this project. This five-part series was packed with details that I never could have obtained in a short period of time. The database component took over a year to complete. In the end, we were able to deliver a project that was airtight in its findings, rich in content and with a sharp multimedia presentation that has drawn the attention of readers all over the world. Yahoo immediately shut down the re-homing groups in response to the series. Members of Congress are starting to talk about reforms.
Q. What advantages does working at Reuters give you in working on a story like this?
A. At a time when many news organizations are scaling back their investigative coverage, it’s valuable to be working at a place that is going in the opposite direction and investing more resources in this important work.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. Easy question. It’s the best job in the world.
This post originally ran on Reuters Best.