Reporting the Truth: Journalist Degree Graduate Investigates with ProPublica Network
Fair. Accurate. Trustworthy. Christian Sheckler is a journalist’s journalist.
It only takes a few minutes talking to Sheckler to notice his precision of language, his love for research, and his commitment to sharing what is true.
These qualities made Sheckler’s transition into the field of journalism seamless. After his sophomore year in Grace College’s Journalist Degree Program, Sheckler landed a summer internship at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel which led to a full-time role immediately following his graduation in 2011. Two years later, he moved back to Michiana and began his eight-year tenure with the South Bend Tribune.
Those same qualities were the ones that Sheckler’s boss saw in him when she encouraged Sheckler to apply for the Local Reporting Network with ProPublica, an initiative that covers one year’s salary for reporters at local news outlets to focus on investigative projects in the area. In 2017, 239 reporters with outlets around the country applied for the opportunity. Sheckler was one of seven applicants selected to participate.
During his year with ProPublica Sheckler investigated wrongful convictions in Elkhart County, prompted by the Keith Cooper case from 1996 where Cooper was misidentified and wrongfully accused of murder. Sheckler’s thorough research uncovered misconduct by those involved. Perhaps most shocking was the fact that those responsible for the mistakes in the case went on to bigger and better things: a detective became a police chief, a prosecutor became a judge, and another prosecutor became the attorney general of the state.
Sheckler’s findings turned his attention toward the current-day accountability systems in the Elkhart City Police Department. The conclusions weren’t far off from the findings of 1996– there were multiple cases where individuals guilty of misconduct were not fired, but actually promoted. He also found that the police chief was providing misinformation to the police board.
As a result of Sheckler’s collection of articles, Elkhart County took action to improve transparency and accountability.
“People in leadership positions in the city of Elkhart took our findings very seriously,” said Sheckler.
Following Sheckler’s investigation, the police chief resigned at the request of the mayor. The city dedicated $150,000 for an independent review to be conducted of the police department, and two officers were indicted on civil rights charges after it was revealed that they had repeatedly punched a prisoner in handcuffs.
“I take it very seriously that jobs and reputations are on the line,” said Sheckler. “I never go into an investigation hoping that my work ends up harming someone. But I do hope that if there is mismanagement or corruption going on, that we can get to the bottom of it, that we will be able to present what we find accurately and fairly, and that it will be taken seriously,” he said.
Sheckler’s thorough investigative work reveals that there is so much more at stake in journalism than simply telling a story.
“The need is great for fair, diligent, honest, and ethical reporters,” said Sheckler. “Trustworthy reporters are essential to people who care about what their leadership is doing, how they are spending tax dollars, and whether or not they are being good stewards of the public trust they are given,” Sheckler explained.
After ten years in the field, Sheckler still enjoys the thrill of hunting down information, learning what’s going on behind the scenes in government, and being able to inform people about it. But if you ask him what he loves most about his job, he will admit that his honest answer is a bit of a cliché.
“I really do learn something every single day in my job,” said Sheckler. “It’s still amazing to me that I get paid to basically learn about new topics every day. It’s a privilege. And it’s a lot of fun to do this work, much less, to make a living doing it!”
Grace’s Journalist Degree
Through the Journalism Program at Grace, Sheckler was well prepared for a career in journalism.
“I knew very little about journalism at that time, but my professors were very patient with me and helped me understand some of the fundamentals and basics of news writing,” said Sheckler. “I remember specifically Dr. Terry White was so encouraging to me, and helped me build up my confidence to do this work.”
Sheckler is also quick to mention his experience as copy editor of the Sounding Board, the school’s student-run newspaper, as well as the fact that he met some of his best friends to this day in the Journalism Program.
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