Another new project aims to bring investigative journalism back to local newsrooms

As local legacy newsrooms continue shearing staff, several critical types of jobs have all but disappeared, including photojournalists, copy editors, designers, editorial cartoonists and investigative reporters.

On Wednesday, the Center for Investigative Reporting announced a program that aims to revive investigative journalism at the local level, and it’s not the only one.

  • Reveal Local Labs, CIR's project, will partner with newsrooms in four cities to produce and support investigative work. (Disclosure: That project is funded by the Knight Foundation, which funds my coverage of local news.)

  • Last September, Report for America launched and started placing journalists in local newsrooms to do work that’s gone uncovered, including investigative and watchdog journalism. It’s currently in 12 newsrooms.

  • In December, the Nieman Foundation announced the Abrams Nieman Fellowship for Local Investigative Journalism that includes three fellows who will spend two semesters at Harvard and have nine months for an investigative project.

  • Also last December, ProPublica announced seven newsrooms it’s working with in its new Local Reporting Network. That program funds a local investigative reporting position and pairs them with ProPublica’s senior editor.

Together, that’s an investment in investigative reporting in more than 20 communities (assuming the latest program chooses different cities than the ones above.)

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“I think it’s really smart to work with existing news media to try to bolster their reporting,” said Doug Haddix, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

As newsrooms have gotten smaller and smaller, he said, one solution to continuing investigative work has been through non-profit journalism.

“That began this wave of trying to fill the vacuum,” Haddix said. “We’ve lost probably half of the newsroom jobs in the U.S. for newspapers over the last 10 years.”

The Institute for Nonprofit News, which launched in 2009, now has more than 100 members. One example: More than a decade ago, Andy and Dee Hall created the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. It has since shared its work with hundreds of news organizations.

That collaborative model has become a trend, Haddix said. And it’s one that’s evident in several of the most recent programs that focus on local investigative journalism.

“As budgets and staffs decline, investigative reporting – resource intensive and time-consuming – is among the first victims. And yet it has never been more important to our democracy,” said Amy Pyle, editor-in-chief at CIR, in a press release. “Through this initiative, we hope to support the work of local journalists who are telling important stories in new ways and speaking uncomfortable truths to power in their communities.”

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