Top inewsource stories that sparked change in 2019

Top inewsource stories that sparked change in 2019

A lot has changed since inewsource published its first story. Over the past decade, we’ve grown from a small watchdog startup to a full-fledged digital news operation.

What has remained the same, though, is our commitment to fact-based, data-driven journalism that has the potential for real impact to improve lives.

Our accountability and investigative journalism takes time and resources, and we intend for it to make real-world change.

As another year begins, we’re looking back on the impact our reporting had in 2019 and look forward to increasing that impact with more stories on issues our readers care about.

VA leaders questioned at congressional hearing about ‘egregious’ human research

First on the list, human research. In October, leaders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were questioned during a House committee hearing about the current systems in place to protect and care for veterans.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, cited our ongoing investigation into a dangerous liver study performed on sick veterans at the San Diego VA Medical Center in La Jolla.

Reporters Jill Castellano and Brad Racino have spent the past year investigating two whistleblowers’ claims that unethical liver biopsies were done on veterans without their consent.

Their reporting revealed the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector has a long history of conducting poor investigations into veterans’ medical care. Jill and Brad reviewed hundreds of whistleblower investigations across the federal government and found that in the past decade, 16% of investigations led by the VA’s medical inspector have been labeled “unreasonable.”

On average, the Office of Special Counsel finds about 11% of cases from other federal agencies to be “unreasonable.”

This kind of analysis hasn’t been done before and provides a rare look into the operations of a small but powerful entity in the VA.

As part of the story, we also built a database that lets you explore hundreds of whistleblower claims brought against the federal government since 2009. (Spoiler: the Department of Veterans Affairs shows up a lot.)

Bungled multimillion-dollar roofing project at SDSU a ‘case study’ on what not to do

San Diego State University faced a public relations nightmare last spring when chemical vapors from a roof construction project in the Professional Studies and Fine Arts building sickened more than two dozen students, faculty and staff.

Documents obtained by inewsource intern Bella Ross showed university officials pushed forward with the roof renovation while the building was occupied because they feared losing $2 million in funds. Eventually, the building was closed because of the fumes.

Bella’s investigation followed a collaboration between inewsource and SDSU’s campus newspaper, The Daily Aztec. She and fellow intern Lauren J. Mapp, both SDSU journalism students at the time, worked with reporter Brad Racino to chronicle the environmental and health hazards the roofing project was causing.

Following their reporting, the university held two open forums on the roofing project, and one concluded with SDSU President Adela de la Torre announcing the building would not be reoccupied in April as planned. It reopened in May but is not expected to be fully operational until May 2021.

Public records we obtained also showed the mess could have been avoided. SDSU officials pushed forward with the $2.5 million roof renovation when the building was occupied because they feared losing the funding by June 2019. The deadline was actually June 2020.

Now, the college is spending up to $12 million more to repair the building — including reroofing it.

San Diego voters promised billions in infrastructure fixes, but money running dry

San Diego politicians promised billions in infrastructure fixes when they got voters to overwhelmingly approve the Rebuild San Diego ballot measure in 2016, but funding for the repairs is running out far sooner than expected. It all could be gone by summer 2022.

Mary Plummer, our new infrastructure and government accountability reporter, brought the failed promises and money woes to light.

Her investigation this past fall found that just $59 million in Rebuild San Diego funds had been allocated to fix roads, sidewalks and storm drain fixes – nowhere near what San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Councilman Mark Kersey and business groups had told voters.

With this story, we also launched a new community reporting project led by Mary called Fix This. The mission is to let our audience help power our infrastructure reporting by alerting us to problems they see throughout San Diego County – everything from street issues to sidewalks in disrepair to public buildings needing maintenance.

To send Mary a question, concern or tip, email her at FixThis@inewsource.org.

UCSD doctor resigns amid questions about undisclosed Chinese businesses

Dr. Kang Zhang, chief of eye genetics at the University of California San Diego, was put “on leave” in April after an inewsource investigation exposed how he had put medical research subjects in harm’s way for years.

Zhang resigned in July, as we posed questions about his connection to foreign businesses and China’s Thousand Talents Program, which the FBI says incentivizes scientists to illegally take intellectual property developed at U.S. universities to China.

Our reporting uncovered that Zhang is linked to more than half a dozen businesses in China and the U.S., including as the CEO and founder of a publicly traded Chinese biotech company specializing in the same work he performed at UC San Diego.

UCSD has not told women with HIV of data breach, despite researchers’ pleas

This story revealed how a study on women with HIV resulted in their names and personal information being breached and UC San Diego’s attempt to hide the details from the women over concerns about liability. After our reporting, UCSD began the process of notifying these women in one-on-one meetings of the data breach.

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We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Shyla Nott:

Shyla Nott
Shyla Nott is a social media web producer for inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email shylanott [at] inewsource [dot] org.