Brainstorming the future of investigative reporting

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It is, admittedly, just a modest first step. But the Center for Public Integrity is co-hosting a meeting this week that we hope might eventually help change the landscape of investigative journalism.

It’s no secret investigative reporting, and journalism generally, are imperiled. The old business models aren’t working, and barely a day goes by when layoffs aren’t announced by major newspaper and magazines. As reporting staffs shrink further and further, fewer outlets have the luxury of doing any deep-dive enterprise work.

Against this backdrop, we’d like to think that the Center for Public Integrity and our friendly cohorts — and some-time partner organizations — represent a beacon of hope. More to the point, we believe our donation-supported, not-for-profit status might provide a model for how investigative reporting can survive, or even thrive, in the near-term future.

On this front, there are actually a few silver linings emerging amidst the dark clouds hanging over journalism. For one thing, besides the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), there are many new players in the field using the same sort of model — ProPublica in New York and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, to name just two. And over the past year or so, a host of entrepreneurial new initiatives have sprung up nationwide focusing on local or regional investigative reporting — initiatives like the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in Madison and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in Boston, to name just a couple more.

Now comes the hard part — figuring out if there’s a way to stitch these efforts together to create a new national investigative news network. And the even harder part — figuring out if there’s a way to make it financially sustainable.

Those are the subjects of this week’s meeting at the Pocantico Conference Center in suburban Westchester County, New York. We’re co-sponsoring the meeting along with CIR, and the get-together is being supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Surdna Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.

We’ve got lots of work to do over the next three days as we try to put some color on this canvas. Just what would a national investigative news network look like? How would the various groups collaborate? How would such a network be structured? Who might provide ongoing support, for both the collaborative effort and for the original investigative work at these various centers? What kinds of stories are appropriate? One particular interest of the Center for Public Integrity is how to create deeper watch-dog coverage of state governments — the kind of coverage that’s been crippled by ongoing budget cuts at a variety of media outlets.

We’ll be brainstorming on these and other issues with executives from the groups referenced above, as well as other national leaders in the world of investigative journalism and representatives of additional new initiatives in Colorado, Missouri, California, Texas, and Minnesota.

Lots of other interested groups wanted — and deserved — to attend the meeting, but the conference center’s capacity constraints have forced us to limit the number of attendees to just over 30. The conference has a website, and once the meeting’s over, we’ll need to reach out more broadly and report back to the many interested parties. We’ll try to do the same for you in another blog post later this week.

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