Downie: ‘Wash Post’ Chandra Levy Series Worth The Effort

By: Joe Strupp

Even with a presidential campaign in high gear, a housing market crisis in full swing and a war in Iraq, The Washington Post believes devoting space for a 13-part series on the unsolved murder of Chandra Levy was worthwhile, according to Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.

But he said the paper made a conscious effort to spread the series across nearly two weeks so that each installment would be shorter and easier to digest on a daily basis.

“We think it is the kind of story that would sustain readership over a period of time,” Downie said Monday as the second installment of the series was published. “We purposely wanted to make this easy to read. It starts on the front page and has less than a half-page of text inside.”

Each installment has an average of 30 to 40 inches of text copy, Downie said, less than most in-depth, multi-day series. He said the package could have run over five or six days.

“We thought it was the best way to present this particular story,” Downie added. “We want to try new ways to present material to readers, to fully engage readers, to present the news in the paper and on the Web.”

The series centers on the case of Levy, the Washington, D.C. intern whose 2001 disappearance prompted national interest after she was linked romantically to former congressman Gary Condit.

Eventually, her body was found in a Washington park and Condit was cleared of any involvement in her death. But his reported affair with Levy led to voters ousting him from office and a national spotlight being put on the case.

Seven years later, however, the case remains unsolved and Post reporters have uncovered what they contend are numerous mistakes by investigators, the media, and new views from Condit himself. Downie declined to reveal many of the revelations, saying readers will have to wait for the total series to be presented.

“In the end, the serial will reveal how an enormous effort by the D.C. police, the FBI and prosecutors was undercut by a chain of mistakes, a misdirected focus and missed opportunities that allowed a killer to escape justice,” the first story published Sunday stated.

At least three reporters, two from the paper’s six-person investigative unit, worked on the series for nearly a year. Downie said the case was worthwhile even with so many other ongoing news events.

“We are covering the presidential race and at the same time we are still competing with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in covering Fannie Mae and the housing crisis,” Downie said. “We are not skimping on anything else in order to do this. This is of great local interest.”

Downie credited Sari Horwitz, one of the lead reporters on the series and a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, with sparking interest in the case. A former police reporter, Horwitz had been digging into the case and using sources to drum up new information since last year.

“After gathering more and more information, it became clear that there was more to it,” Downie said.

The series can be found at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/specials/chandra/index.html

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