Indiana University

Indiana University Journalism

Authors of Blagojevich book discuss reporting as narrative, book research

Kourtney Liepelt | Nov. 12, 2012
coen and chase
Photo by Nick Demille
From left, Jeff Coen and John Chase, authors of a new book about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, talked about the book and their work as Chicago Tribune reporters Thursday night.
Illinois has a reputation of corruption within its political system, and two Chicago Tribune reporters delved into the scandal involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to exemplify one such instance of corruption of national interest.    

The Tribune’s John Chase and Jeff Coen relayed their experiences in reporting for a book rather than a newspaper, and answered questions about their perspectives on the scandal itself during their talk Thursday night. The talk was co-sponsored by IU’s chapters of the Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

In their new book, Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself Out of the Governor’s Office and into Prison, Chase and Coen said they drew from their political and crime reporting backgrounds, respectively, to formulate a story about the fallen Illinois governor from his early life to his incarceration.

“Clearly, politics and crime come together with Rod Blagojevich,” Coen said.

Separately, the reporters had covered various aspects of the Blagojevich case, which started in 2005 with an FBI investigation into corruption. The governor eventually was impeached and removed from office, then indicted and convicted on 17 charges of corruption, including wire fraud, attempted extortion and conspiracy to solicit bribes. He now is serving 14 years in prison.

But when Chase and Coen sat down to work on a book together, they said they essentially wanted to start from scratch, to make the information fresher rather than simply putting out a series of previously published pieces.

The effort they had to put forth to gather information for the book was quite different from how they would go about a typical news piece, they said. For one, they were taking on the project in addition to any requirements they had to meet at the Tribune, and they therefore had to do reporting for the book in any spare time they had.

The reporting and writing of the book itself also proved to be a different experience, they said. They revisited previous sources to gather further information and conducted more than 100 interviews. Rather than providing this information they obtained in a factual manner, they tried to make it as narrative as possible, Chase said, organizing it in a chronological fashion. So, they began with Blagojevich’s childhood and developed the story as he ascended into the world of politics, and followed the story through his fall.

john chase
Photo by Nick Demille
Chase received his journalism degree from IU in 1992. He and Coen independently covered various parts of the governor's story for the newspaper, then collaborated on the book.
Even though they were working on the book outside their day jobs, the two said the Tribune required that if any information surfaced that could be considered breaking news, they had an obligation to bring it before the newspaper first. For example, as current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was running for office, the pair’s editors wanted to know the two had turned up anyting about Emanuel as they researched their book.   

“We got all the tapes for this project now, but even before that, I had to go get Rahm-specific tapes to try to make sure we wouldn’t get beat on something,” Coen said. “We were kind of working both jobs at the same time.”

The two said the permanence of the information they provided in the book added a certain sense of pressure to get everything absolutely correct, and they therefore stressed the importance of fact-checking throughout the process.    

When asked if they had any concern about the effects the information they put forth in the book would have on Blagojevich or his family, the two said they were not worried about it. The facts of the case were there, they both said, and their focus was a larger audience.   

“There’s no question as to whether that’s true or not,” said Chase, who graduated from IU with his journalism degree in 1992. “You compromise yourself when you start to think like that. If you get hung up on that, you’ll have a blank page.”

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