PowerReport2014: What strategies did the WJP team utilize to investigate police-community relations in Sophiatown?


“A conference for every journalist who wants to improve skills”

On November 5, 2014, the WJP team held a presentation on strategies they employed to carry out a 6-month-investigation of Sophiatown. The presentation was part of the tenth installation of the annual Power Reporting Conference held at Wits University. Senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, kicked off the presentation by providing background information on the Wits Justice Project and the Sophiatown project. The main purpose of the project was to infiltrate Sophiatown police station and look into the relationship between the community and the police. Some of the themes covered in the project include ‘History of Sophiatown’, ‘Socioeconomic and living conditions of police officers’, ‘Police Corruption’, ‘Perception of the police by community members’, etc.

Why Sophiatown?

The team already had contacts at the Sophiatown police station

Close Proximity, meaning easily accessible

Sophiatown has a rich historical context

Journalistic Tools Employed

WJP team took on an ethnographic approach to the investigation of Sophiatown and combined that with intensive background research. Senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely, mentioned that her investigation, at some point, involved accompanying a driver of a certain security company while he was doing his rounds patrolling the neighborhood. Radio journalist, Paul McNally, talked about the difficulty he endured building trust with his sources. His investigation looked into the ecosystem between cops, drug dealers, drug addicts, and business owners. One of the aspects he found compelling during his investigation was that sources were often unaware of how much of the information they provided was going to be used. There was a fine line between friendship and mutual understanding that he had to thread. Ruth Hopkins mentioned that her investigation relied heavily on human sources then access to legal documents. She walked into the office of a community policing forum at the Sophiatown police station, where she met the protagonists for her story. For more on the project, click here.


Ruth Hopkins (left), Carolyn Raphaely (middle), Paul McNally (right)

Questions from the floor  

Do you feel the pressure to follow up with these stories?

How did you not get lost in all the information you received?

In writing about useless cops, aren’t you feeding into people’s expectations about our useless policemen? Shouldn’t you be looking to tell stories of policemen who are actually good at what they do and how others can emulate that behaviour?

I would like to know the level of collaboration you had with the police department during the investigation…




About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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