A senior ProPublica editor spoke to Hunter news literacy students on Nov. 14 about verifying information, using his own experience investigating an incident involving the New York Police Department on Halloween as a teachable moment.
Deputy Manager Eric Umansky told students in Professor Sissel McCarthy’s MEDIA 211 class that it’s a journalist’s job to uncover the facts and then convey them accurately and powerfully.
“You need to be incredibly precise with the facts or whomever you are writing about will undermine you,“ said Umansky. “We bring the receipts.”
Umansky used this technique in his own neighborhood after his wife saw an unmarked police car hit a boy at about 8 p.m. on Halloween, as it was going down Court Street in Brooklyn the wrong way.
She shared those details with Umansky when she got home, and he spent the rest of the night trying to figure out what happened and why the NYPD arrested three other black boys ages 15, 14 and 12.
Since this would not be a story for ProPublica, he also tipped off a Gothamist reporter who covered the arrests,
In class, Umansky showed students a series of his tweets (one example at left) documenting what he learned from his reporting and explaining how he found other eyewitnesses.
His newsgathering continued with a “callout” to the public asking for additional information with the promise of anonymity if they requested it.
As of now, the incident is under investigation by the CCRB, New York City’s police oversight board, thanks at least in part to Umansky’s quick thinking and journalistic instincts that night.
During his day job, Umansky is in charge of ProPublica’s “Trump, Inc.” coverage, a joint reporting project with WNYC that is investigating how the president’s family business works and if his family is keeping their promise to separate White House business from Trump Organization business.
He also manages ProPublica’s audience engagement and research teams.
Whether freelancing in his neighborhood or holding the president of the United States to account, it’s all the same to Umansky. “ Our job is to bear witness, to look at what’s happening and to tell people about it, “ he said.