'Good use of philanthropic money'

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To Berkeley for the #logansymposium2015, an investigative journalism conference funded by the Reva & David Logan Foundation, which has been a major historic backer of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Lowell Bergman’s Investigative Reporting Program at the university. 

One of the most impactful comments for me came from one of the more discreet participants, Elspeth Revere from the influential MacArthur Foundation [fully, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation], a backer of Public Integrity. In a closing panel on the future of investigative reporting, she gave three measures for how she looks at the value of MacArthur grants to investigative reporting outfits, adding “we’re not very measurement oriented”.

She said she looks first at “reach” but based on the recipient’s own metrics,  not new metrics imposed by her group. Secondly she looks at “prestigious prizes” to reflect industry and professional recognition of quality. Thirdly,  and she recognized most long term: policy change.

Reassuringly, Elspeth, in regard to support for investigative journalism, said  “no one questions your right to be in this”, adding she felt investigative journalism was “one of the very good uses of philanthropic money”.

Measurement of impact and a focus on dissemination of investigative reporting to the widest possible audience are huge issues for donors and nonprofit investigative outlets right now, driven in large part by pressure on donors for greater evidence of their own effectiveness.

"Earned income" at Texas Tribune

Also at the #logansymposium2015, the digital analytics platform Chartbeat and CIROnline.org engagement fellow Lindsay Green-Barber [like our own Emily Dufton a PHD fellow from the ACLS] gave powerful presentations on tracking the immediate and longer term impact of our work. CIR, for example, found that once a particular project hit the Hispanic community, its impact spread rapidly and in ways which it had not previously detected.

I’m also a strong believer in advertising and earned-income being good indicators of your level of support, so it was interesting to hear the impressive editor of the Texas TribuneEmily Ramshaw, say that the Tribune is getting up to 20 per cent of its income from commercial sources including sponsorship and events and that it has guidelines based on outward-facing transparency it hopes protects it from criticism. The Texas Tribune apparently makes as much as $1.3m from a single three-day event on policy and politics. Some clear lessons for us.

Other tidbits which got me at the conference:

  • Diversity: a “Rooney rule” under which all short lists must contain a minority candidate. Diversity as a reporting issue: how can you make the judgments or get the stories without having a workforce from minority communities.
  • Comic-style story-telling: this work from Illustrated Press was perhaps the simplest and yet most imaginative way to get stories across to new audiences I saw —and far less complex and costly than many.
  • BuzzFeed, which has taken two of our best reporters, now has 17 dedicated investigative reporters and has discovered a couple of truths we could all do with considering in our writing. Said BuzzFeed’s Mark Schoofs: "The nut graph turns out to be really important.

Do we need an anecdotal lead and do we have enough to support it?

Impact and innovation

A good example of the impact of a great story and some innovation, is the follow up to Susan Ferriss’ superb anger-generating piece on the treatment and incarceration of kids. I wrote about this a note ago. A petition on Change.org about this now has more than 84,000 signatures. It’s also generated an interesting internal debate about our role in raising awareness when it spreads into that sort of advocacy. On the innovation front Susan’s piece was last week’s release in the Reveal podcast we have partnered with the CIR on.

Herograms for our team

Mike Hudson and the ICIJ team involved in last year’s #luxleaks expose of the role of Luxembourg in facilitating mass tax avoidance has today been named the business category winner of the New York Press Club journalism awards — reinforcing Elspeth’s metric. This recognition is I hope only a taster of what will come in response to the HSBC #swissleaks story. Remember, they already won a Polk for #offshoresecrets. It is also worth noting Gerard Ryle’s important comments on the charges filed last week against a reporter on #luxleaks Edouard Perrin. Gerard said: “For a founding member of the EU to bring charges against a journalist in relation to reporting that is clearly in the public interest shows a lack of respect for the important role journalism plays in holding the powerful accountable.”

Executive Editor Gordon Witkin wanted to note the work of health reporter Fred Schulte in digging out health whistleblowers. He also notes, as do I, that we’ve become much faster off the mark in engaging in major news events, notably more on campus sexual assault from Kristen Lombardi in which Joe Biden made clear the problem is real. A personal favorite was Allan Holmes’ thoughtful and timely intervention in the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, a superb analysisNick Kusnetz showed how lame Virginia’s new ethics plans are after a scandal there.

Environment editor Jim Morris noted that the indefatigable Jamie Smith Hopkins harried the EPA until it confirmed the premise of her story that burning off gas from flares may be far more dangerous than thought.

What we’re reading

Our Money & Politics Editor and former Bloomberg reporter Alison Fitzgerald says she’s reading Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld, by Jake Halpern. Says Alison: “The book is populated with drug dealers, Vegas swindlers and armed thugs who make up the bottom rung of the debt collection industry. They buy charged off credit card debt from mainstream banks that we all do business with and hope to make their fortunes bullying people into paying up.”

Items I’ve noted in the past week include Guardian Washington reporter Dan Roberts with a colorful piece on who was behind the U.S./Cuba deal and a superb ProPublica investigation into what was known ahead of the Mumbai terror attacks. Also worth reading this piece from the 

Chronicle of Philanthropy about online revenue rising at non-profits.

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