AJAs 2018 Finalists


Date Aired or Published June 21, 2018
Media outlet where first aired or published: Telegraph-Journal
Name of Program:
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Kingston, N.B.
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

Showcasing his breaking news and investigative chops, reporter Michael Robinson took an everyday news tip about a noise complaint and turned into one of the Telegraph-Journal’s top most-read reports of 2018.  A mom with young children contacted Robinson, fed up that a rural piece of personal property on New Brunswick’s Kingston Peninsula was being transformed into a booze- and drug-fueled, post-grad bash business for a week straight every summer.  So, on the same day the reporter received the tip, he attended the underage after-prom party fest at the Shakedown Ranch late one evening in mid-June, where teens from various area high schools pay $20 and sign a liability waiver to party on a private 36-acre lot near residential homes. For years, several high school student council groups – officially unaffiliated with the schools – take their turn to party in the rented field all night. The operation, overseen by a middle-aged man with a team of mostly unaccredited security guards, was so chaotic it appeared ripped right out of a Hollywood teenage party movie. Robinson managed to get unlimited access, where he witnessed underage drinking, illegal drug use and other high-risk, rarely supervised behaviour. He saw, wrote about and photographed medical emergencies, drug overdoses, assaults and reported on bear mace attacks. As so many of the participants were minors and intoxicated, Robinson had to be extremely vigilant when reporting on the more than a thousand teens on scene. Even some of the people working the event, including the Ranch DJ, were minors.  Robinson was just about to board the ferry en route back to Saint John at 1 a.m. when an ambulance was unloaded and sped past, lights flashing. It was pitch black and there was no guarantee the paramedics were responding to the ranch but it was a gamble worth taking. Robinson turned around, followed the emergency vehicle into the backwoods, down a meandering, pothole-ridden road for half an hour until sure enough, the ambulance pulled into the ranch. Robinson followed closely behind where he witnessed a teenager seizing on the ground in medical distress. The scene of paramedics offering assistance to a young, incoherent, woman who had mixed her medications and alcohol, surrounded by intoxicated and worried friends and onlookers, formed a dramatic picture and opening scene for his report. More coverage followed in the days ahead, including reporting from area residents, police, parents and lawyers. Initially, the Justice and Public Safety Minister refused to comment. But after the high-octane bashes landed on the front page, the Minister, in a rare interview, directed staff to look into the issue. The coverage also provoked local schools to take action. It wasn’t long before other media began reporting on the ranch and soon after, the land owner reported his insurer - upon learning of the activities on the site - dropped him as a client. A week later, the RCMP was going door-to-door seeking statements from residents about the recent grad parties. Robinson would later learn the ranch owner was issued a court date by the RCMP to answer to allegations of mischief under the criminal code.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

The newsroom had 6 reporters at the time. After working a full day on the story, Robinson drove to Kingston, N.B. to report on the prom party from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. He then filed and reported on the incident the following day.

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