Egg donation, first conceived as personal essay, becomes investigative report

When Sarasota Herald Tribune business reporter Justine Griffin set out to donate her eggs, her editors asked her to consider doing a personal essay. What she discovered during the year-long journey is that fertility industry has some serious conflicts of interest and that nobody advocates for the health of egg donors. As her approach morphed from a personal essay to an investigative package, Griffin had to deal with her own conflict of interest. She was part of the story.

Ultimately she and photographer Elaine Litherland navigated those conflicts with an approach that involved complete transparency. She told her readers everything, she told her caregivers she was a reporter, writing about the process. The project team also included editors Anthony Cormier, Donna Koehn and Scott Carroll, developer Dak Le, copy editor Jeffrey Rubin, video specialist J. David McSwane and project manager Tony Elkins.

In order to interview the doctor who cared for her, she had to sign HIPPA disclosure forms, granting him permission to talk to her on video about her case.

The project, The Cost of Life, is a hybrid of personal essay and investigative project. It’s the kind of story that might have been frowned on in a newspaper, a decade ago. Done well, the magazine-style blend of personal experience and reporting is likely to become a larger staple of mainstream journalism.

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