IRE14: Unmasking the cheaters: From biogenesis to BALCO

This is part of a series of posts from the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2014 conference. Follow along with the conference on Twitter with #IRE2014. Here’s the full schedule and a list of all conference tipsheets.

Unmaking the cheaters: From biogenesis to BALCO

Speakers: Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN; Lance Williams, Center for Investigative Reporting; T.J. Quinn, ESPN investigative reporter; Tim Elfrink, managing editor at Miami New Times

Lance Williams

  • BALCO: Fantastic summary by Williams to describe it: A conspiracy to corrupt sports through designer steroids.
  • The story was laid out in their book, “Game of Shadows

T.J. Quinn

Tim Elfrink

Lessons learned from these stories

How do you get and maintain sources

  • Lance Williams: Cold calling sources is hard and even harder in doping cases where people don’t want to talk. Mark just kept calling and calling people until he eventually broke off small stories. With a key source, Lance called him to check in on him when he got a new job just to chat.

How to develop sources in the federal government

  • T.J. Quinn: It starts with one and leads to another. Once you have a source, you can tell the source that you need to talk with an agent in another field office and that person may let you use their name to make a connection. At one point, he got a fax number off a piece of paper from an office he needed to build sources in. He called 38 numbers around that number until he got someone’s voice mail. And he eventually got a call back. When I got ahold of someone, my pitch was always the same: I just need to know if what we’ve got is right.

Break from the masses

  • At the Bonds’ grand jury, most reporters hung out together in the courthouse. They all wanted to know what Bonds was saying on the inside. T.J. Quinn broke from the pack and found an alcove where he could hear the testimony.

Reading list



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