The one-time reporter who is putting up $6 million to create an investigative journalism center

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'The importance of quality journalism,' tips for covering Florence, what it took to prompt Moonves' exit

When he was a freshly minted journalism grad, with no clips, Michael Arnolt got his first reporting job, he said, "because they felt sorry for me."

By the end of 5 1/2 years at The Elkhart (Indiana) Truth (obits, cops and courts, county bureau, state editor, political writer) he had picked up two statewide AP awards and was dreaming of a Pulitzer one day. However, a call from his widowed mother, summoning his help on the family business, took his career in a different direction.

Of his reporting life, Arnolt said: “I couldn’t wait to go to bed at night to wake up the next morning to go to work.”

Forty-five years later, Arnolt has kindled his love of journalism in a big way, donating $6 million to Indiana University, his alma mater, to establish a center for investigative reporting, beginning next fall. The gift, announced Thursday, the biggest in Indiana's century-old journalism program, has prompted interest from other possible donors to the center, said James Shanahan, dean of The Media School at IU's Bloomington campus.

The Michael I. Arnolt Center For Investigative Journalism began as an idea to build reporting training and strength in a heartland news desert, Shanahan said, and grew from there. 

In an interview from Indianapolis, Arnolt says he has used the writing and investigative skills he learned in reporting — "fairness, accuracy and being thorough" — in business as well. One example: Arnolt mentioned that journalism taught him to quickly encapsulate a conversation in a followup note, driving the conversation forward. He made his fortune as the co-founder of Graston Technique, a physical therapy method adopted by clinicians, outpatient clinics, 450-plus sports organizations and university advanced degree teaching programs.

While he grew his business,“I never lost my interest in what I call the news game," Arnolt said. "I felt like I had the privilege and right to critique it and also the right to be the largest defender.”

Some of his love for the field dates back to childhood and "journalist" Clark Kent fighting for truth, justice and the America Way. That said, the real-life result of meticulously reported accountability journalism — "the impact of what we do on everybody’s life" — can help democracy so much, he said.

IU's Franklin Hall
IU's Franklin Hall, which will be home to its new investigative media center. (Photo/Gena Asher)

Arnolt's involvement with IU grew after he became part of a Media School advisory board looking at the future of journalism. Arnolt and Shanahan joined a group of journalists and academics who brainstormed about what an investigative center could mean to help students, the state and the region. The others in the group "did not know the depth to which (Arnolt) would commit himself, and he’s very humble,” Shanahan said.

“The decision has been based on the importance of quality journalism as a watchdog of the government, of things social and education, and for the people," Arnolt said. "None of this fake news, Trump, Russia, occurred to me as a rationale for doing it.”

The Indiana center joins investigative centers established last month by the Scripps Howard Foundation at the University of Maryland and Arizona State. Shanahan says all 50 states should have such a center.

He acknowledged, however, that the strong interest in recent days has been daunting.

"When I saw so many people were interested in this," the dean said, "I thought, 'I have to make it work.'”

Quick hits

WHAT IT TAKES: Meticulous reporting, detailed charges and named accusers often are needed to prevail “against the fierce resistance of a paternalistic, self-protective and often sexist culture,” media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes. Against all odds, she says, something akin to justice happened Sunday at CBS with the departure of CEO and chairman Leslie Moonves after dogged work by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow and the courageous voices of a dozen women who publicly accused of Moonves of sexual harassment and assault.

JOURNALIST PROBED: Mike Ward, a veteran reporter in the Austin bureau of the Houston Chronicle, has resigned after questions were raised about the existence of several sources in recent stories, which internal researchers were unable to confirm. The Chronicle's executive editor, Nancy Barnes, told readers that the paper has hired an outside journalist to investigate, and she promised to publish "a full account of our findings."

ZUCK’S CHOICE: Evan Osnos’s profile of the Facebook chief includes this question: Should my company be the arbiter of truth and democracy for two billion people? A huge problem for Mark Zuckerberg, Osnos writes, may be adjusting from past habits, including times when his single-mindedness proved the best course for the company. But here are three other past habits: “Between speech and truth, he chose speech,” Osnos writes. “Between speed and perfection, he chose speed. Between scale and safety, he chose scale.“

MOVES: Gregory H. Lee Jr. is returning to Washington, moving from editorial director of nba.com to senior managing editor of The Athletic’s D.C. operation. Lee, formerly of The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, is a former NABJ president. ... Axios has hired veteran auto reporter Joann Muller, currently the Detroit bureau chief of Forbes. Muller, formerly of Business Week and the Detroit Free Press, will be writing a newsletter on autonomous vehicles, reports Chris Roush of Talking Biz News.

MILE-HIGH MILESTONE: The Denver-based Colorado Sun has become the first digital-only associate member of The Associated Press in the state, says its editor, Larry Ryckman. “It's an honor to receive this vote of confidence and trust from our colleagues at the world's largest news organization,” Ryckman, a former AP reporter, foreign correspondent and editor, told me. (FYI, an earlier version incorrectly did not include in Colorado). 

WHAT READERS ASKED THE NYT ABOUT ANONYMOUS: Why did you publish the unsigned op-ed? How did you find the writer? Were the writer’s motives considered? These are among the questions James Dao, the Op-Ed Editor of The Times, answered here. One thing Dao said the paper hadn’t considered: the effect of publishing the essay on conspiracy theorists promoting QAnon and the notion of a “deep state.”

WISDOM: Whatever side you are on in the U.S. Open/Serena Williams dispute, take a look at this Martina Navratilova op-ed from Dao’s shop — there is an understanding, clarity of thinking and earned authority that brings value to all, IMHO. "All of this U.S. Open history, combined, perhaps, with always feeling like an outsider in the game of tennis — I know exactly how that feels — goes some way toward explaining why Ms. Williams reacted the way she did, and most of all, how she just couldn’t let go." wrote Navratilova, who came up against Communism and bigotry much of her life. "But what is clear is she could very much not let go."

R.I.P. ADAM CLYMER: Presidential reporter, pollster, inveterate digger. When The New York Times and Baltimore Sun journalist learned that George W. Bush had called him a "major-league asshole" into an open mic, he responded: “You know, if they all love you, you might as well just be driving a Good Humor truck.” He was expelled from the then-Soviet Union in the 1960s as a "hooligan" and said his favorite part of covering the Richard Nixon "I am not a crook" speech was the dateline: Disney World. (h/t Karen Tumulty)

REPORTING GRANTS: Three members of the AP's Pulitzer-winning investigation into seafood from slaves have won McGraw Fellowships for Business Journalism. Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza will research labor abuses and international supply chains. Freelance journalist Gary Putka will explore aspects of income inequality in the U.S. economy and workplace, and USA Today's Nick Penzenstadler and Grand Valley State University professor Jeff Kelly Lowenstein will examine the racial impact of foreclosure within federally backed mortgage programs designed to keep seniors in their homes. Roughly 100 journalists applied for the semi-annual fellowships.

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