Jace Barraclough

MY STORIES: 

089MY BLOG:

At the beginning of the semester the topic for my enterprise story haunted me as I was unsure of what to write about. I was also unfamiliar with much of the crisis surrounding refugees. The only real exposure I had was a documentary I had volunteered to usher at Sundance Film Festival last year, as well as the van-loads of refugees who would come to the employment agency where I previously worked. Unfortunately, I was prohibited from asking any questions or learn about the hardships of those people because I had to keep our conversations to professional standard and avoid personal questions.

The idea of social media refugee fundraising came to me as I saw ads from refugee charities on my newsfeed on Facebook. They were mostly by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) with a link that took you directly to a page that let you donate quickly and easily. I thought it was genius.

I started to search for refugee charities utilizing social media for fundraising and found a video of a feature story by KSL. It was about a woman and her family who gave up their own Christmas presents to donate to a Syrian refugee family through a website called Humanwire. I immediately began digging into the site to learn how it worked.

The premise of the website was that a donor could look through profiles of refugee families and essentially take that family under their wing. Depending on the amount donated would determine how much contact you have with them.  Smaller donations merited updates on their situation. Larger donations gave you the option of having live-streamed conversations with them to encourage a better relationship.

I interviewed three donors and got a statement from one of the co-founders within a short amount of time. One of those interviews was same woman who was featured on KSL’s story previously mentioned. Everything seemed wonderful. Only one of the three had mentioned any mishaps with the company, but nothing compelling enough to make me think the company might be fraudulent.

The night before the first draft was due I received a message from one of the women I interviewed. She told me she was tipped off by the other co-founder of the company who had recently quit, that they were being investigated for fraud. I had to completely rethink the angle of the story. It went from something positive and motivational to investigative and cautionary for those thinking of donating.

It was a whirlwind of an experience. However, I learned a great deal in a matter of minutes upon receiving that message. I learned the importance of flexibility after learning how quickly a story can change. I figured I had two options: I could take the easy road and continue with the story I had, or I could do what any good journalist would do — write the story the people need requiring a significant amount of more work. I chose the more difficult course of action.

Something I learned while researching the company is how common it is for fraudulent companies to claim legitimacy and charity as a means steal people’s money. On almost every website whether government or otherwise, experts caution people to make sure to do research on any charity claiming to be the real deal. Advisories such as these come when enough cases have been reported to deem it necessary to caution people.

I feel my work was necessary because people need to be warned of the white-collar crime happening by thieves posing as philanthropists. Unfortunately, in cases dealing with the financial side of white-collar crime, there must be a case built against the suspect before accusations can be made. This includes the investigation of expenditure reports, bank account activity, financial reports, etc. This is an extensive process that can take a lot of time.

In the case of Andrew Baron of Humanwire, more than $100,000 of charitable donations had been taken before they were able to arrest him. The money he took was raised by generous people who sacrificed their time, talents, and even Christmas presents for their families. It’s highly unlikely that money will ever be repaid.

With this semester focusing on refugees, it has opened my eyes to the necessity of our assistance in helping them. My church has made it very clear that we need to be looking for opportunities to serve these people. I believe my stories will be contributing pieces of the puzzle to bring awareness and a call to action to aid them in whatever capacity we can.

ABOUT ME:

I was born and raised near Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m a senior at the University of Utah majoring in journalism. I have worked in various areas in media industry, including radio, photography, TV, film and writing. I recently co-directed a documentary that won awards at four different film festivals. I currently work as a studio technician at KSTU Fox 13.