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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Shadid Curriculum: Contrera

Jessica Contrera (Washington Post) accepts the 2022 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics at a ceremony in New York in May 2022.

…I am most grateful to have this connection to Anthony [Shadid], who wrote about people. And when those stories published, the conflicts didn’t end, the suffering didn’t stop, but he kept going back and he kept trying, and I will too.

Jessica Contrera (Washington Post)

Learning from Sources

For her investigative stories on child sex trafficking in the US, Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera spent months building rapport with victims to illustrate how popular, deeply entrenched anti-trafficking laws are failing victims and families. (You’ll find the other two stories in her series here and here).

Contrera dedicated hours to both establishing relationships with, and learning from, sex trafficking survivors to create a community of trust and shared knowledge and to shine light on underserved and stigmatized sectors of the criminal justice system. Instead of relying on available numbers and stories from those enforcing the laws, Contrera looked to those directly impacted to better understand and evaluate where the system was faltering.

Jessica Contrera is available for virtual class visits. Contact Center administrator Krista Eastman ( for more information.

Jessica Contrera on Her Reporting


Q1: What role does a source’s individual experience and testimony play in reporting? Can (or does) it always need to be verified or investigated?

Q2: Are individual stories effective in exposing flawed systems? How can journalists best use and respect anecdotal evidence?

Q3: What is the relationship between a journalist and their source outside of the story, if there is one at all?