Alleged Illegal Searches

Antonio Rivera is featured in Ailsa Chang’s award-winning story on New York City Police Department’s alleged illegal searches.

Rivera claims the police removed marijuana from under his clothes then arrested him for displaying marijuana publicly.  (Photo courtesy Ailsa Chang/WNYC)


Ailsa Chang is relatively new to reporting and boy-oh-boy did she hit the ground running. A year or so after Ailsa began reporting for WNYC in New York City, she won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Journalism Award for her two-part series “Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be Increasing Marijuana Arrests.” In fact, Ailsa says the series was her first-ever investigative story.

On this edition of HowSound, Ailsa shares her approach to reporting the criminal justice beat in New York City. In short: make connections,  confirm everything you can, be prepared to sit for long hours in court, make more connections, and report the truth.

By the way, Ailsa recently left WNYC. You may start hearing her voice on signature NPR programs reporting on economics from New York City.

Cheers, Rob


9/15/12 – CORRECTION – In the podcast I state that weeks after Ailsa’s report, New York’s Governor Cuomo “introduced a proposal that would re-define marijuana misdemeanors to reduce incentives for police to conduct illegal searches and arrests.” Actually, the governor didn’t make his proposal until a more than a year after the report. It was state legislators that drafted legislation in the weeks after the report.


7 comments to Alleged Illegal Searches

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  • Brock Lueck

    Great podcast as usual Rob. I was wondering if at some point it might be worth doing a piece on ‘when do you have enough tape?’ This is more likely a problem for amateurs like myself who are working on pieces without a definite story length and flexible deadlines, but might be a useful discussion? I have read many producers speak about the final story being different than the original vision, and have tried to embrace that. But in doing so, I think it’s a bit harder to know when you have what you need to put something good together.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    Hi Brock — Great question about “enough tape.” I’m never quite sure myself. I tend to think more is better because going back is often a real challenge for a bunch of reasons. I also monitor myself — am I getting board? Am I running out of questions? Have I thoroughly covered the most important topics with the interviewee?

    For an upcoming HowSound, (probably November), I’m interviewing Audie Cornish later this week about interviewing. I’ll be sure to ask her that question.


  • Brock Lueck

    Hi Rob,

    I definitely wonder about ‘when is enough’ when interviewing someone, but usually push myself to ask as many questions from as many angles as the person will put up with, then call it a day.

    More specifically for me (at the moment) what I am thinking about is at what point do you stop collecting source material and get editing. I know it’s not that simple and I’m sure that different people do it differently, but my current novice approach is to try to collect all the interview tape up front so I have a clear direction of where the piece is going to go, then write, narrate, edit, etc. But given the meandering way these things can go, when do you stop? I appreciate that this open ended approach is a luxury of time most professionals probably don’t have, but any insight into all that is greatly appreciated…

  • rob

    Hi Brock,

    I think it’s an imprecise science. And, it also seems like a potential vortex. There’s ALWAYS more tape to get, right?

    It’s possible, the answer lies in having a focus and a plot-line BEFORE you go out to get tape. Without a focus, there’s a tendency to record EVERYTHING because everything has equal weight. A focus helps to narrow your needs. And, creating a penciled-in plot line (a set of scenes for the story) will give you a to-do list and a potential beginning, middle, and end to go after in the field.

    As I collect tape, I’m constantly checking back at my focus and my plot-line. As I discover info I didn’t know about initially, I will re-draft my focus and plot-line and continue on. But, as I continue, I connect all the dots in my plot-line. Once those are filled in, I stop.

    Or, put another way, I’m editing the whole time I’m collecting tape. They field work and editing take place simultaneously for me.

    Hope that helps!


  • Brock Lueck

    That makes sense Rob, thanks!

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