- Insider is taking you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series “The Inside Story.”
- We’ll provide readers with an in-depth look of how these stories came together and a peek inside the reporter’s notebook.
- This week, Insider fellow Phil Rosen spoke to features reporter Kate Taylor about her recent investigation into teen clothing brand Brandy Melville.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you began covering retail.
I’ve been at Insider for almost six years now, coming from Entrepreneur Magazine, where I covered the franchise industry. I joined the retail team back in 2015, focusing on fast food as my primary beat.
A lot of my reporting has attempted to make business news interesting for the average reader and, conversely, reporting on consumer trends through a business lens. In other words, I have penned many fast-food reviews alongside beat reporting and investigations.
I joined the Business News team last year, and moved to the Features team under Dana Schuster this summer!
How did you realize that Brandy Melville was worth digging into?
I first became interested in Brandy Melville when Rachel Premack tweeted about the retailer having a sub-brand named John Galt. When I tried to figure out who made this decision, I realized that it is impossible to find Brandy Melville’s CEO by Googling.
This caused me to discover the strange and complicated corporate structure behind the brand, which helped me unearth two lawsuits related to allegations of racial discrimination.
One of the lawsuits mentioned some of the racist and graphic text messages that I cited in the story – which all convinced me that this was a story looking into further.
How long did it take for the story to come together, and what was the hardest part of reporting it?
I started doing some casual Googling at the very end of June, and began reporting in earnest in July. The story went live in the beginning of September, so it took about two solid months of reporting.
Having joined the Features team in late June, this is the first time I’ve worked on a piece without doing at least some beat reporting on the side. For years, I would like to have at least one story finished every day before lunch time. Transitioning from that very speedy pace to spending weeks on one investigation was an adjustment – especially since reporting the article had a somewhat slow start.
I think that the roller coaster nature of reporting the story was probably the biggest challenge for me. For a lot of June, I was reaching out to 20 to 40 people a day and hearing back from maybe one. If I was still a beat reporter, I probably would have either thrown in the towel or written a less ambitious article with fewer sources.
After I finally started finding people willing to talk with me, the central idea of the article changed drastically multiple times, since people kept sharing such horrifying and bizarre stories. Letting the story evolve and trying to do justice to all the people who were willing to speak with me ended up being the hardest part of the process.
Talk about your process for getting sources for this story. How did you go about finding people to trust you?
Finding sources and getting them to trust me was a very long, drawn out process – especially since I didn’t go in with any sources at the company.
I started by creating a spreadsheet and reaching out to dozens of people who worked at Brandy Melville, finding them mostly via LinkedIn and Instagram. (I found a few really good sources by searching on Twitter for former employees.)
I reached out to roughly 200 people for the piece, most of them cold reach outs. The vast majority never responded.
Once I was able to speak with a few former employees, it became much easier to find other people to talk to me. Almost every worker had other people who they thought I should speak with, and so on.
It still involved a lot of follow-ups and chasing people down – so many people were on vacation! – but sourcing snowballed as time went on.
Some employees were really excited to talk about their experiences at Brandy Melville, but it took time to build trust with others. This required numerous conversations, on and off the record, both on the phone and via text or email. In general, I think it’s helpful to keep sources in the loop on how a piece is coming together – what the timeline might look like, what our legal team does, that I will fact check everything before publication, etc.
We talk a lot about “no surprises” journalism in terms of critical stories, but it is also important when thinking about sources who are sharing intimate and potentially traumatizing information.
What excites you most about your job?
I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to go deep on stories that may otherwise be ignored. It’s also endlessly exciting to be able to work with so many smart, creative people at Insider – especially having seen the company grow so much since I started in 2015.