Journalistic Impact Award Entry: "Predators in Public Schools", an original J425 investigation


Apr 23

J425's PREDATORS section -- the page your are currently viewing -- houses the work that comprises our entry in the Journalistic Impact Award category for 2024. Our collected reporting on the issue of sexual predators in area public schools includes over 20 original investigative reports, a total of 37 original by-lined stories, four podcasts, two livestream shows, over 20 bespoke Instagram Reels, 33 pieces of original visual art created in-house including the image above and 21 bespoke graphic elements including timelines, explainers, photo art and pull quotes.

Our reporting of this issue began as a breaking news story, then broadened into local, regional and eventually state-level investigations -- through which J425's exclusive reporting has identified and sidelined two separate active predators operating in public high schools in our footprint. JULIAN WILLIS was fired hours after our reporting revealed he was the target of a felony sex crimes probe; and that he'd fled rape charges in three states. He is set for trial June 24. MARK HEIN remains on leave but has not returned to teaching after our reporting told the story of his primary victim; and of the stark differences between an internal school district investigation that led to a slap on the wrist for Hein, as opposed to a police investigation looked at the same facts and arrived at sex crimes against a minor.

Our reporting has also attracted the anonymous assistance of six sources, including a primary victim, the victim's family, and two la enforcement sources. Most beneficial, however, has been the guidance of a retired school administrator who reached out with a guilty conscience and helped us to report on the size, depth and seriousness of the issue by guiding our Public Records Act requests with certain key words, locations and stakeholder names that allowed us to uncover exclusive information, like a list of 122 confirmed (by internal district reports) predators still currently coaching in Washington State public schools.

In addition to identifying, confronting and sidelining dangerous predators actively targeting our community's female students, our reporting on this subject matter has served as a significant catalyst in building sustainability: our reporting on Willis led to the biggest net increase in readers and paid subscribers in the publication's history. Further, at the time we began this project we sat at around 900 subscribers as of February 2023. We are currently approaching 2400 subscribers, a year-over-year increase of 150%. We also believe there are significant grant opportunites that we can access as a result too.

More importantly though, we are working on stories that simply would otherwise gone unreported. We operate in a news desert, and confronting predators cloaked in the protection of the state's most powerful labor union is typically a task reserved for special units put together at high profile dailies. That's not an option we have here.

We do have the skillset and the courage to tackle this problem: Publisher Kevin Thomas Hulten cut his teeth at ASU's Cronkite School and is a former Washington State Investigative Reporter of the Year honoree, as well as then former Chief of Staff for a Senate Committee Chairman. Staff writer Mike Anderton offered over 50 years of education reporting experience that he lent to this project before he passed away two months ago. Mike said that what we lack in bark, we make up for in bite. I think he meant that our small size is countered byan excess of grit, reporting chops and determination. This means a lot to everyone involved and many tears -- tears of anger and tears of grief -- have been shed by J425 staff throughout this investigation. Please find our collected reporting indexed below, sorted into two subheadings: the investigation of basketball coach Mark Hein; and the investigation of football coach Julian Willis. We have gone through and dropped the pay wall for every included story so LION may review the reporting in the form it is delivered to our readers. In addition, please find examples of our social media, visual journalism and analytics backing up our aforementioned finding that this reporting, although bleak at times, also served as --by far-- the biggest generator of new subscribers, new readers and new sustainability opportunities. ** This is an ongoing project, we are currently filming a biographical interview with a teenage victim and preparing for a review of our findings by the subject matter expert Dr. Carol Shakeshaft.

I. High School Coach / Math Teacher Mark Hein

He Said It: Mark Hein Quotes

Sustainability Analytics on Selected Mark Hein Reporting (click images to expand)

Revenue and sustainability projections tied to two of our most read Mark Hein reports.

Sample Social Collateral

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II. Kamiak HS Football Coach Julian Willis

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Click through to view revenue and sustainability analytics for Willis reoorting


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