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Starting Sunday, 'Reveal' On WFAE Will Blend Storytelling And Investigative Journalism

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This Sunday, you'll hear a new show on WFAE. It's called "Reveal" and it's a powerful blend of storytelling and investigative journalism.

It takes an hour to go deep and investigate one subject. Joining WFAE "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf is "Reveal"'s host, Al Letson.

Lisa Worf: Good morning, Al.

Al Letson: Good morning. How you doing?

Worf: Good. So what's the mission of "Reveal?"

Letson: I think the mission of "Reveal" is that we want to uncover how the world really works. The things that happen behind the scenes that maybe as a typical American with a whole lot of things going on -- kids, family, work, whatever -- that you may not be able to tune into as easily. So we try to like really dig deep and find out exactly how the world really works and then bring it to you in the hopes that we can arm the audience with information so that they can advocate for change.

Worf: What makes for a "Reveal" story, then?

Letson: Well, No. 1, a good investigation. We look for stories that really dive deep into the numbers and really look at these big systems. But also, you know, sometimes we go smaller, too. But I think we really want to look at how these big systems in America work.

We also look for who can we hold accountable? Who can we really put pressure on? And then I think the other thing that is probably just as equal as the other two is we look for great characters. You know, radio is such a powerful vehicle, but numbers on radio don't really work as much as great characters do. So we try to find the perfect mix of all three things.

Worf: One investigation that comes to my mind, it looked at nonprofit rehab centers that were sending patients to work for free at companies like Shell and Walmart. Can you take us through what it took to investigate a story like that?

Letson: So Shoshana Walter and Amy Julia Harris got a tip, I think, off of Twitter of somebody saying that their loved one was in a rehab center and was being forced to work and was not getting paid for it. And so Amy Julia then went down to North Carolina and really dove in to what was going on. And it took a good year to get to the bottom of that investigation. And then once they reported that one, more stories started popping up and they went and did another investigation in which they spent, you know, I think total time that we've been working on the rehab story -- just reporting -- is probably somewhere around two to three years.

So it takes a really long time to get to the bottom of these stories, because the thing is, is that when somebody is doing something unethical, they don't actually want you to see it or know it. And so they try to find ways to obscure it. And our job is to kind of clear the smoke and look for the fire.

Worf: These stories take so long, as you said. How can you do the show on a weekly basis?

Letson: Well, we work with a lot of partners. We work with a lot of member stations. A lot of times a member station will come to us and say, like, "Hey, we've got this great story, would you be interested in doing it?" And then we team up with them. And then we also work with some big national news organizations as well, like the Center for Public Integrity-type investigations. So we're like tag-teaming in order to get all of this stuff out.

Worf: What kind of impact have your investigations had?

Letson: Big impact. When I think about impact, I think about our redlining stories that was headed up by Emmanuel Martinez and Aaron Glantz. And they went and found that redlining is still happening across the country and in cities all over the country, city councils, state legislatures began talking about how to change that system.

Aaron Glantz also did reporting on opioids in the military. And that was a huge part of reform. The story that you mentioned about drug rehabs -- after that story came out, a lot of the rehabs that we were specifically talking about got closed or lost their contracts.

And so, you know, for us, it's really about giving people the information so that change can happen. And we see it all the time.

Worf: That's Al Letson, host of PRX's "Reveal." You can hear the show Sundays at 1 o'clock on WFAE.