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Mike Connelly: The News watchdog team uncovers the hidden stories

Mike Connelly

They are the most important stories we do. Consider some headlines this spring:

How city spent a half-million dollars rehabbing homes that sell for $100,000

Retired priest sexually abused 'dozens' of boys

Water Authority gives boss a golden parachute

Nichols teacher’s affair with student spurs probe

DA delayed airing decision on inmate’s death

We call them watchdog stories. The Washington Post calls them short-term investigations. Denise Jewell Gee, who became assistant managing editor for local news earlier this year, describes them this way: "Shining a light in areas that often go overlooked – whether it's wasteful spending, wrongdoing or just plain outrageous incompetence."

Watchdog coverage has long been a core part of The News' mission. Jim Heaney, who left The News seven years ago and founded the local Investigative Post, was a 1993 Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting. News reporter Edgar May won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 after he spent months undercover employed as a social services caseworker.

When Gee took over our local news coverage in January, she was determined to do more. She tapped Mike McAndrew to lead the watchdog team. McAndrew had been an investigative reporter and editor at the Post-Standard in Syracuse before coming to The News in 2016.

Collectively, the reporters on the watchdog team have more than 200 years of reporting experience. Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel wrote the book on Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. (For a streetwise course in how to be a reporter, read the introduction to their 2001 book, "American Terrorist.")

Matt Spina has uncovered abuses in the county jails and by law enforcement. He has recently been writing about the patronage-riddled Erie County Water Authority and, with business reporter Jonathan Epstein, about questionable business mortgages. Susan Schulman has dug into misuse of tax money in public housing. Mary Pasciak has dug into mischief and misuse of money in the Buffalo schools.

After a February press conference by a man who said he was sexually abused by a priest, Jay Tokasz did what every good reporter should do. With editor McAndrew's help, he found an address for the priest. Then Tokasz drove out and knocked on the priest's door.

What made Tokasz's reporting special: The priest talked with him, admitting he had sexually abused "probably dozens" of teenage boys.

And with that, Tokasz's reporting changed Western New York.

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