She's a Buffalo native and Pulitzer Prize winner. Sarah Cohen, whose work includes leading a team of investigative reporters at the New York Times, will appear in Buffalo Thursday night to discuss the importance of data journalism.
Cohen will return to her hometown Thursday to speak at a benefit for Investigative Post, one of WBFO's journalistic partners.
"I'm going to talk a little bit about how investigative reporters actually do their work, as opposed to how people think they do their work," Cohen said in advance of her visit. "There's very little whispering in garages anymore. There's very little undercover work anymore. It's a lot more systematic, boring and kind of empirical than it used to be."
It relies more on data journalism. Cohen says it is through data journalism that investigative reporters may still deliver compelling pieces.
"In my career I have focused more on using data in order to document other kinds of stories that are very human and very traditional in some ways," Cohen said. "One story I worked on a couple of years ago was almost entirely a narrative of one woman who may have been killed by her boyfriend, who was a sheriff's deputy in Florida. In that story, we used a lot of data to see how common the problem of officer-involved domestic violence was."
Cohen says she'll also offer some pointers on how to spot the real stories and the fake ones. Calling a critical article "fake news" has become a popular strategy in today's political climate. Cohen was asked if journalists themselves have become part of the problem, whether it's becoming less willing to confront a person of power out of fear of losing future interview opportunities, or becoming more like "gotcha" journalism.
Cohen said while there are some who have been "cowboys" in the field, it is not appropriate to take on the attitude of trying to bring someone down. There remains the need to be responsible.
Data journalism helps keep the work responsible which, in turn, contributes to credibility.
"I think what you saw recently with the Hollywood sexual harassment stories, you'll see that the (New York) Times wouldn't publish until someone would put their name behind the legal allegation and seen many of the legal settlements," Cohen said. "Those are the kind of documentations that we rely on in investigative reporting."
Cohen this month has joined the faculty at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University, where she'll continue to lead investigative projects.