Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher will be helping Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s her inaugural pick:

There’s a lot of great writing on the Internet, but not as much great reporting. And that’s what we mean when we talk about “the death of newspapers.” It’s less about the end of a product and more about the dearth of watchdogs. Investigative reporting is expensive. It takes time, people and money. When it’s done well, it’s often upsetting, and not something that advertisers rally around.

But exposing injustice, malfeasance, waste, fraud, courage, humanity, and truth are the most important things journalists can do with their talents, skills and platforms. With that in mind, we selected an investigative piece as the inaugural #college #longreads selection.

Students at Fresno State, under the guidance of former Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Arax, produced “Freefall Into Madness: The Fresno County Jail’s Barbaric Treatment of the Mentally Ill.” Through their reporting, the team learned that Fresno County Jail denies medication to mentally ill inmates. “Because they are not mentally competent to stand trial, they bounce back and forth in a perverse revolving door between the county jail and state mental hospitals, costing taxpayers even more money,” the article notes in a chilling early paragraph.

Students interviewed inmates, judges, lawyers, and elected officials—on the record, a rarity in itself—for a piece published in the independent monthly paper, The Community Alliance. In a note that accompanied the story, editor Mike Rhodes wrote: “This is our best argument that even in the world of the Internet, Facebook and smartphones, quality journalism will survive. I believe readers need and will continue to demand in-depth information about the world around them.”

We agree.

Freefall into Madness: The Fresno County Jail’s Barbaric Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Reported and written by Fresno State journalists Sam LoProto, Damian Marquez, Angel Moreno, Jacob Rayburn, Brianna Vaccari, Liana Whitehead and their professor Mark Arax.

May 2013 | 43 minutes (10,556 words)


Professors and students: Share your favorite stories by tagging them with #college #longreads on Twitter, or email links to aileen@longreads.com.