All eyes in the stately third floor room of Sensenbrenner Hall were on Raquel Rutledge and her flouncy berry red dress as she presented her piece "Gasping for Action" as part of the 2015 O'Brien Fellowship Conference.
Sarah Hauer, an undergraduate intern in the Diederich College of Communication, introduced Rutledge. She described the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter from the Journal Sentinel as “tenacious.”
Among her favorite lessons she learned from Rutledge, Hauer laughed and said, “She taught us that gummy worms can be performance enhancing drugs for journalists.”
Rutledge showed her multifaceted personality when she began her slideshow and switched from bubbly to fierce as she spoke on her approach to investigative journalism.
“There are far too few of us asking these kinds of questions,” Rutledge said as she discussed her investigation.
She discovered that diacetyl, a dangerous chemical known to cause lung cancer, is a byproduct of coffee roasting. Reports have shown its presence in the microwave popcorn and flavoring industry but never before in the average production of coffee. Most roasters she talked to had never heard of it.
“I talked to a zillion people,” Rutledge said of her research. Results proved her persistence worth it. She tested the air quality of Just Coffee Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin and found unsafe levels of diacetyl.
“People are recognizing, yes it’s in this business and yes it’s a threat,” she said.
Engaged attendees may have left with a slightly more bitter taste in their mouth after learning about the undesired consequences of their complimentary cup of coffee, but also with a renewed belief in public service journalism.
I am a senior studying journalism and international affairs at Marquette University. I am a Milwaukee-dweller and a storyteller passionate about exploring the intersection between community-building and communication. I'd love for you to learn alongside me!