A new project launched Thursday wants to fill a growing gap in local newsrooms — investigative journalism.
Rose Ciotta, IECorps founder and a Pulitzer-winning investigative editor, thinks the push to rebuild the work with reporters is critical, “but we can’t forget about this element as well,” she said. “…I think anybody who has worked on an investigative project knows that the editor plays a very important role of leading, of keeping the project on track and of driving it home.”
Ciotta piloted IECorps last year in two newsrooms — the Olean (New York) Times Herald and the Beaver County (Pennsylvania) Times. The Pennsylvania paper created a multimedia series on the impact of the opioid crisis. The New York paper produced an investigation on the city’s broken rental housing program, which won a prize from the state press association.
Now, Ciotta is looking for editors willing to work with local journalists and newsrooms that need those editors. She’s starting by collecting names and information from editors with this form and newsrooms with this one.
Ciotta, who is using the forms to gauge interest, is searching for funding to launch the project and plans to pay the editors a stipend “in the thousands of dollars but not a humongous number,” she said, “and it really will depend on the size of the project. I’m not expecting that this is a voluntary thing.”
Newsrooms wouldn’t pay to work with the editor, at least for their first project.
Her two pilots were funded by the Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund available to former Knight fellows at Stanford. We’ve covered another of those projects here. (Disclosure: My reporting on local news is partially funded by Knight.)
Embedding as an outsider inside a newsroom took sensitivity and careful communication, Ciotta said.
“You’re not taking over.”
After meeting with the newsrooms in person and choosing a project, she then shifted to weekly Skype meetings focused on strategies for getting around reporting roadblocks, obtaining data and guidance on key questions the investigations had to answer.
In that process, one newsroom had to juggle their other responsibilities among a staff of three reporters, while the other worked through a change in ownership that meant several reassignments.
Neither are situations that are uncommon.
“I understand what happens in small newsrooms where editors are harried and have multiple demands on their time,” Ciotta said. “Even when a big story comes along and you have a reporter you think can do it, there’s no time to talk about it.”
And she’s betting that investigative editors, whether they’re retired or at universities or had to leave the industry before they were ready, have the skills local newsrooms need right now to tell stories their communities need right now.