What’s it like to break big stories as an investigative journalist when you’re still in college?
Ask Kenny Jacoby ’17. The recent School of Journalism and Communication graduate and Daily Emerald alumnus recently won first place for Enterprise Reporting from the Hearst Journalism Awards — widely considered the “Pulitzer” of college journalism — for a story he wrote as a student.
Jacoby’s winning article for SportsIllustrated.com about rape allegations against an Oregon basketball player was selected out of 122 entries from 70 schools.
“It’s a huge honor to have been selected first among all those entries,” Jacoby said. “I got a lot of good training from some SOJC professors who guided me through the process of working on some of those bigger stories.”
One of Jacoby’s most influential mentors at the UO, Lori Shontz, said that Jacoby’s passion for complex stories made him stand out among his peers.
“I think what really sets him apart is that he really wants to learn,” Shontz said. “He’s not interested in simple answers. He’s interested in the complexities, and that's what makes his reporting so strong.”
Jacoby, a computer science and mathematics major until last year, decided to take a job as sports editor with the Daily Emerald because it allowed him to pursue his interests in sports and writing.
“I really got into it because I liked sports,” he said. “[Sports writers] often don’t cover the big issues and scandals. But once my eyes were opened to the unsavory aspects of sports, that's when I decided I wanted to do more watchdog reporting.”
The prestigious Hearst award is investigative reporting prize No. 2 for Jacoby, who also won a national Investigative Reporters and Editors award last year for a Daily Emerald story, along with Jarrid Denney and Cooper Green.
Breaking that story gave Jacoby his first taste of investigative reporting. In 2016 he discovered that one of UO’s star football players had been accused of three previously unreported acts of violence. Over the next few months, Jacoby, Denney and Green found no record of disciplinary action taken against the player.
The resulting Daily Emerald story published in November 2016. Soon after, the UO Athletics Department threatened to pull the school paper’s football game credentials. But Jacoby was more determined than ever. He switched his major to journalism and pursued even more investigative work.
When Jacoby, Cooper and Denney won the Investigative Reporters and Editors award, a judge wrote that the students serve as an example for all investigative journalists.
“These tenacious reporters prevailed by finding sources to verify the findings of their investigation,” read a statement on the award announcement page.
Denney calls Jacoby one of the hardest-working reporters he’s ever worked with. Denney recalls when the reporting team was looking for one final source to corroborate its findings. Jacoby was on the hunt, calling anyone and everyone to get the job done.
“It’s insane,” Denney said. “I don’t know where he finds the time.”
According to Jacoby, making public records requests can be one of the most important and challenging aspects of investigative reporting. He said public agencies sometimes make it difficult to get information by putting up huge paywalls, or they may be deliberately slow in fulfilling requests. If an agency rejects a request, Jacoby said it is then up to the reporter to file an appeal in court to get the information.
“To do this kind of reporting, you have to be willing to make enemies,” Jacoby said. “Because you’re reporting on things people don’t want the public to know, it can be difficult to track down sources and get information.
“The whole aim of it is to tell the public something they don't already know or expect to hear,” Jacoby said. “People aren't going to like you necessarily for what you’re reporting, but you have to stick it out in the long term.”
Jacoby has already made a name for himself in the world of investigative sports reporting. He and his work have been mentioned in the Washington Post and Willamette Week. In addition to SportsIllustrated.com, his stories have been picked up by Deadspin and Bleacher Report, and he has investigative bylines with Eugene Weekly and NBC San Diego.
Jacoby graduated in December and is now working as a data intern with the Palm Beach Post investigative team in Florida. When his internship ends, he hopes to write investigative pieces for a living.
“The reward of putting out investigative stories is extremely high,” Jacoby said. “It’s a type of journalism that makes you feel really good about what you’re doing.”
One of Jacoby’s professors at the SOJC, Brent Walth, said the world of investigative reporting could use more people with Jacoby’s work ethic.
“What he offers is what journalism needs, which is an ability to question people in authority, to provide evidence in a persuasive way and to tell stories that make a difference,” Walth said. “I think he has all that going for him.”
Eric Schucht recently graduated from the UO with a technology degree online, a minor in multimedia and a certificate in film studies. This spring, he will be interning at The Inlander, an alt-weekly in Spokane, Wash., and in the summer he will hold a Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism reporting internship at The Roseburg News-Review. He has also written for The Daily Emerald, Around the O, The Cottage Grove Sentinel and The Creswell Chronicle