Scripps Howard Foundation announces $6 million to university investigative journalism programs

The Scripps Howard Foundation sent a signal today that the future of journalism lies in investigative reporting.

The Scripps Howard Foundation sent a signal today that the future of journalism lies in investigative reporting. The foundation awarded $3 million dollars each to two universities to start investigative reporting centers. 

The University of Maryland and Arizona State University will open "Howard Centers," which Scripps says "will be multidisciplinary, graduate-level programs focused on training the next generation of reporters through hands-on investigative journalism projects."

The Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU were among 13 schools that competed for the grants.    

Liz Carter, president and CEO of The Scripps Howard Foundation, said this is among the biggest efforts that the 56-year-old foundation has funded.

"We are trying to change the world," she told Poynter. "That's it, that's all we are trying to do."

Carter says Scripps turned its attention to investigative reporting because, "In today's world there is a lot more information, there is a lot more data for the public to sift through and there is a lot more opportunity for misinformation. But there are also more resources for journalists to use and investigate.

"Journalists today take a leadership role much earlier in their careers." 

Carter said that new graduates used to enter newsrooms then hone their reporting skills, but now newsrooms need a new hire to be ready to work right away. That's why the new Howard Centers will stress real-world reporting.

"We just can't turn these students out without hands-on skills," Carter said.

The Howard Centers will also encourage journalism schools to recruit students who didn't graduate from journalism programs to enter investigative reporting.

"We want them to look for great students who can be great investigators," Carter said. She said she envisions students who come from other majors and bring a range of expertise to use those skills in journalism.

The foundation also envisions the new investigative reporting centers will collaborate with local and national newsrooms who have a great idea for an investigative project but don't have the resources or manpower to pull it off themselves. 

The Merrill School at UMD is one of the nation's best-known schools and is home to projects like the ViewFinder program. Last year, students worked for most of a year producing a documentary on Maryland's overwhelming opioid problem.

At Arizona State, the investigative center will add another layer of practical reporting experience on top of its Carnegie-Knight News21 project that has produced in-depth and multimedia stories for big news outlets including Washington Post, NBC News and USA Today. That program "is led by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Jacquee Petchel, and students work under the direction of leading news veterans, including Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post."

The Howard Centers are just the latest university-based investigative projects that have turned out impressive and important work. 

  • Columbia University's Journalism school features graduate-level investigative projects, many of which include international investigations. 
  • UC Berkley's investigative reporting is often the cornerstone of major projects that have aired on PBS' Frontline program. UC Berkley says, "Projects in which the students' roles were acknowledged and credited have received the Pulitzer Prize, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award, Gerald Loeb Award, Peabody Award, National Press Club Award, George Polk award, the Sidney Hillman Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) award, the Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism, and the Columbia Online Journalism Award."
  • The New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University was founded by longtime investigative journalist Joe Bergantino and student work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and beyond.
  • The Louisiana State University Manship School now runs a student-staffed capital bureau that covers the statehouse for newspapers all over Louisiana. Forty-six newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, magazines and websites have used the LSU statehouse bureau's reports, which served an especially important function while state lawmakers were deadlocked over a state budget. 
  • American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop is entering its 10th year.   The program says, "The Workshop publishes in-depth stories at investigativereportingworkshop.org about government and corporate accountability, ranging widely from the environment and health to national security and the economy. The Workshop pairs experienced professional reporters and editors with graduate students, and co-publishes with mainstream media partners and nonprofit newsrooms."
  • One of the most important university-based investigative journalism programs is the University of Missouri, which is home to the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR.) 
  • Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern has its Investigative and Social Justice track.

The new Howard Centers will begin recruiting leadership soon, Carter said, and the programs should be producing news in the 2019-2020 school terms. 

The Scripps Howard Foundation holds its annual national awards judging at The Poynter Institute each year. Additionally, the foundation has provided funding for several Poynter-led programs over the years, including the Poynter TV Producing Project and TV Power Reporting.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.

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