It takes a certain kind of person to be an investigative reporter and Hank Phillippi Ryan is one person who was made for the job. Since 1988 Ryan has been an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News located downtown Boston. Ryan’s other talent consists of writing mystery novels. With four books published and awards won for her amazing writing one begins becomes amazed with Ryan’s busy life.
Her weeks consists of going out in the field to compile information for her packages and spending another part of her week working in the station editing her packages. After meeting with Ryan at Channel 7 I got to talk with Ryan personally about what life is like being an investigative reporter.
The first question that may come to one’s mind about Ryan’s investigations is how she finds out about these stories. “The stories are everywhere. Whether it’s a tip that comes in or a hunch or you read an article about a subject and you wonder if it really works,” said Ryan. Ryan always keeps her eyes open. “You have to be curious about everything and you have to be kind of cynical because your first reaction is generally ‘I bet that doesn’t work’ and then you have to be confident that you can find out the answers,” said Ryan. The process of getting a story can be a brutal one as Ryan explains some of the things she has gone through.
“I have had lots of doors slammed in my face, been hung up many times, yelled at threatened with lawsuits. It’s part of the territory. If it looks like someone is going to hit me I just make sure my camera is rolling. The toughest story is less often something that is physical threatening and more often someone just doesn’t want to tell you. I have been hot or freezing or bored waiting for someone. Not that it’s dangerous but mostly that you have to be persistent,” said Ryan
After asking Ryan the story that she was the proudest of she couldn’t name just one. “We found shocking flaws in the 911 system in which the state revamped the way it works. We found for years not one person of color on a federal jury pool and we found out why that was happening. We found major heart breaking in contractor homeowner system and the result of that three laws were passed and people got home out of foreclosure. We found recall notices not getting sent to schools and now school bus recall notices are getting to the schools. Don’t know how many lives you’re changing with the reports you do,” said Ryan.
What I have been bringing up at the end of each blog post is something about Channel 5’s investigative team. I would always compare the stories that Ryan did to Team 5 Investigates thinking that Ryan also watched their stories and tried to compete with them. When I asked the question if she watches Team 5 Investigates to keep up with what they are reporting, it was surprising when Ryan said no. “It’s not a very worthwhile situation to do, to take the time to see other reports. My job is already hard enough”, said Ryan. She mentioned that everyone was her competitor even the reporters she works with.
I told her that Team 5 Investigates comes out with a story a night and I asked why she only did one story a week. “Doing one report a week is astonishingly difficult beyond anything I can possible describe to you. It’s impossible. You can’t do a real investigative story every week and have it be high enough quality,” said Ryan. She then talked about how some of the stories she does aren’t even considered investigation stories. The reports like H1N1 products being frauds are what she calls consumer stories.
“In doing one story a week we have to juggle the topics. Some of my stories are consumer stories which are different levels of stories from a Hank Investigative. You can’t do investigative stories more than once a week. That means you are calling something investigative that isn’t,” said Ryan.
Through these blog posts there has only been on time that I was critical of Ryan. This was when she reported on fraud H1N1 companies for two weeks in a row. I was surprised the she didn’t chose a different topic the second week. When I asked her why she did this her response made complete sense.
“There are a lot of stories on H1N1. If there was any time to do stories about that it’s now. For the flu product story when are you going to do a story on that but now? One of the things we strive for is that our stories are that they aren’t only on the air when we find them but when they are timely and matter. The point isn’t to do a whole bunch of different stories, the point is to do stories that are relevant and stories that have a viewer befit. We want the viewer to learn something and change their lives,” said Ryan.
When putting these packages together it is just Ryan and her producer who work on the stories. Yet she does have to run stories past others. “My producer and I come up with the story ideas and then we will float them to the executive producer and news director and as a team come up with a plan that we think of stories we can offer and what stories they think they are important,” said Ryan.
For her age it is amazing of the amount of work she accomplishes. She has been with the station since 1982 and has been in the business since 1971 when she started out in radio. I asked Ryan if she was thinking about retirement after all these years of working hard. She said that her contract is up in two years and that she does enjoy the writing life. “I don’t know what I’ll do. It’s a real interesting transitional time,” said Ryan.
When the interview was just about complete I asked Ryan if she wanted to mention anything else. “You see that quote on my bulletin board?” I nodded my head as I leaned over in my chair and Ryan read it out loud. “What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail”. Then Ryan said, “That’s how I view the world.”