Investigative journalism

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How news nonprofits are making money

How can nonprofit news organizations diversify their revenue streams? A recent report from the Knight Foundation surveyed 18 nonprofit news outlets between 2010 to 2012 to find the most effective practices in the areas of finances, organizational structure and audience engagement.

Although most nonprofits increased revenue, relying less on foundation grants and bringing in money from individual donors, sponsorships, events and syndication, financial stability is still a big concern for nonprofit news.

Our guests: Anne Galloway, the founder and editor of Vermont-based VTDiggerMark Katches, the editorial director of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, and Mayur Patel, the Knight Foundation’s vice president of strategy and assessment.

VTDigger is a five-year-old organization with six full-time employees and an annual budget under $400,000; CIR was founded in 1977 and has a staff of 73 and a budget of $10 million. Read more

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University Of Alabama Sororities

How student reporters ended discrimination among University of Alabama sororities

In the weeks before school started, it was widely known on campus at the University of Alabama that a well-qualified black woman was pledging the white sororities. Her high-school resume was stellar, her family were alums and her grandfather was on the Board of Trustees.

The staff at the student newspaper, The Crimson White, was poised to document the seminal moment when she was accepted, which would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the university’s integration.

But the woman received no invitations to join any of the school’s 16 white sororities.

A couple days after the invitations were issued, Culture Editor Abbey Crain and Magazine Editor Matt Ford both stepped up at the Crimson White. Crain said in a phone interview for the Poynter Excellence Project that she assumed someone else was already working on the story and just wanted to help. Read more

Magnifying glass on laptop

IRE’s Horvit: To be an effective reporter, get more comfortable with data

Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), recently shared his thoughts on how data has changed investigative reporting and how IRE fits into the future of journalism.

IRE partnered with Poynter to run a week-long program on investigating local government on a shoestring budget last week. A large portion of the training revolved around using data, including teaching journalists how to source documents and use spreadsheets.

Read more


What the ESPN/Frontline breakup teaches us about investigative reporting

As we put the pieces together in this week’s ESPN/Frontline breakup, we’ve learned something about investigative journalism: it’s incredibly difficult for a news organization to hold its own partners accountable.

That may have been obvious. But for the 18 months I was the lead writer on the Poynter Review Project, which served as ESPN’s ombudsman, the brass in Bristol, Conn., insisted ESPN could do both.

We don’t surprise our partners, ESPN executives told me. But they always added that not surprising partners wasn’t the same as not investigating them, as ESPN and Frontline were doing with the NFL. And indeed, ESPN has amassed a remarkable body of work on the subject at hand, the long-term effects of concussions on professional football players.

But investigative reporting is more than just acknowledging harsh realities. Read more

Air America Documents

Declassification Engine provides solution to processing declassified documents

At a time when “big data” is in vogue and computational journalism is taking off, reporters need efficient ways to process millions of documents. The Declassification Engine is one way to solve this problem. The project uses the latest methods in computer science to demystify declassified texts and increase transparency in government documents.

The project’s mission is to “create a critical mass of declassified documents by aggregating all the archives that are now just scattered online,” said Matthew Connelly, professor of international and global history at Columbia University and one of the professors directing the project, in a phone interview with Poynter.

Matthew Connelly
Matthew Connelly

The team working on the project, which began in September 2012, is made up of historians, statisticians, legal scholars, journalists and computer scientists. Read more

Magnifying glass on laptop

Why it’s time to stop romanticizing & begin measuring investigative journalism’s impact

Charles Lewis, one of the luminaries of nonprofit investigative journalism, sees a culture clash brewing as the sector continues to grow, covering what shrinking legacy media may miss and, more recently, innovating with powerful reporting techniques.

On the one hand, foundations big and small want metrics that demonstrate results analogous to assessments they apply to arts projects, social service initiatives and advocacy work.

On the other hand, Lewis wrote in a white paper last month, “veteran editors and reporters, particularly of the investigative ilk, have an inherent, almost visceral dislike of audience measurement and engagement strategies.” Instead they see themselves “as intrepid hunter-gatherers of information” who overcome a host of obstacles to produce important, even heroic, journalism.

The conflict might be academic were it not for the current state of play in nonprofit funding. Read more

Community support officer

Small paper’s ongoing investigation into local police leads to suspensions, resignations

The Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger has delivered almost daily installments this summer of a story of law enforcement dysfunction that seems more like a script for Reno 911 than a scandal plaguing a modern-day police department.

Five officers have resigned or been fired, others have been reassigned or suspended pending further investigation, and up to 20 people, current officers, former officers and city employees have been implicated. Five prominent citizens resigned from an advisory council before the first meeting.

City commissioners are struggling to isolate themselves from political fallout. And investigators have exposed a culture of sexual harassment and permissiveness, which includes documentation of police officers and staff members having sex in city offices, police cars, city parks and abandoned property.

About 200 people packed a town hall meeting this week, where most participants voiced support for the embattled police chief. Read more


How to overcome your fear of FOIAs

For many journalists, FOIA is a scary four-letter acronym, sometimes stifling investigations before they even begin. This guide aims to demystify Freedom of Information Act processes, giving you the tools and confidence to ask for the information you need to write your next investigative story.

Why FOIA requests are so helpful

FOIA is both a federal and state-based law granting individuals and organizations the right to access most governmental agency records. As such, it’s a critical tool that helps journalists in their reporting and writing. Public-records requests are essential to supporting the journalistic values of holding the government accountable and ensuring openness.

Via FOIA, the government provides the information you need; however, the research and analysis associated with the information obtained is left up to you. Read more


Wisconsin’s government has other ties to journalism orgs

The Cap Times | Wisconsin Reporter

The state budget bill that would kick the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk. Legislators objected to a journalism nonprofit receiving office space in a state building.

Jack Craver asks: So how’s that different from news organizations getting office space at the state Capitol? Read more

magnifying glass and puzzle

Seattle Times asks readers to help with a mystery

The Seattle Times

Seattle-based Social Security Administration investigator Joe Velling is trying to untangle the case of Lori Ruff, who killed herself in Texas in late 2010. She left behind a box that showed she’d stolen the identity of a child who died in a fire in Fife, Wash., then changed her name legally.

The paper has put photos of clues to Ruff’s identity online and asked readers for clues. “So far, we’ve gotten a lot of response, but they haven’t cracked the case yet,” reporter Maureen O’Hagan wrote in an email to Poynter. Read more

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