Using audio records, a trove of legal documents, email exchanges and a series of interviews, Mike Rezendes and Jason Dearen revealed how a senior official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped keep quiet the case of a former bishop who was accused by his daughter of sexually abusing her. The text story was rich with detail and accompanied by audio clips, and the reporters also worked with Reveal to produce a public radio show/podcast.
Last year, Rezendes and Dearen wrote a series of stories revealing the legal playbook used by the Mormon church to keep child sex abuse secret.
In the aftermath of those stories, sources approached the reporters with allegations that the head of the church’s Risk Management Division, Paul Rytting, was personally involved in a series of meetings that resulted in the cover-up of yet another abuse case. Rezendes and Dearen knew that, if true, it was an important story.
Indeed, the reporters showed that Rytting and the church helped keep quiet the case of John Goodrich, who was accused by his daughter, Chelsea, of sexually abusing her. The church’s actions helped derail the prosecution of Goodrich and culminated in a $300,000 payment to Chelsea and her mother, Lorraine, in exchange for a promise that they would not sue the church. Today, the father remains a free man.
At the heart of the AP story were audio recordings of a series of meetings that Rytting held with Chelsea and Lorraine. The women recorded the meetings with Rytting’s knowledge, but ultimately signed a nondisclosure agreement, which included a pledge to destroy the recordings. Rezendes and Dearen overcame that hurdle by obtaining recordings made secretly by a man who attended the meetings as Chelsea’s advocate and was not bound by any legal agreement.
The recordings rendered the story perfect for an audio narrative, and the AP partnered with “Reveal” for its hourlong, investigative public radio show and podcast.
The AP also moved its own clips, with Ron Vample, who oversees audio, embedding recordings edited and produced by audio supervisor Mike Hempen in the AP’s presentation and Jaime Holguin, the director of original programming, producing a “The Story Behind the AP Story” segment.
The reporters worked closely with the Digital team’s Sophia Eppolito on a robust social plan, and the story was the most read enterprise story of the week on AP platforms, ranking no. 7 in traffic overall with a perfect engagement score of 100. The Salt Lake Tribune, the church’s hometown paper, played the story and Dearen’s portrait of Chelsea on A1, as did the Idaho Statesman.
Axios’ Salt Lake City daily email newsletter devoted an edition to the story, and Chris Cuomo interviewed Chelsea Goodrich on his NewsNation show.
For dogged reporting that revealed the clearest picture yet of the church perpetuating a system that prioritizes keeping child sex abuse cases quiet over the safety of children, Rezendes and Dearen are Best of the Week — Second Winner.