Comment to add depth to our reporting

Note from the Center



From a February 4, 2016 note from Center for Public Integrity CEO Peter Bale.

Facts are still sacred

Comment may be free and facts sacred, as a former editor of The Guardian once said, but I have been encouraging some of our most experienced journalists to step a little more briskly into news events in their areas of responsibility or to write curated pieces in which they can pull together the main elements of a subject they know well and use their decades of experience to shed light on current trends.

A couple of good examples lately include R. Jeffrey Smith, our National Security managing editor and a Pulitzer Prize winner formerly of the Washington Post, with a small item — really a blog entry — about the outlook for U.S foreign policy this election year, while deputy executive editor and long-time Money & Politics leader John Dunbar wrote a timely commentary on dark money and the anniversary of the Citizens’ United decision by the Supreme Court.

Jim Morris, the managing editor of the Environment team, stepped into the horror story of Flint Michigan, the kind of story his team specializes in across the country and on which it is holding the EPA and others to account.

Jeff, for me, was one of the inspirations behind this push — which I stress is not a huge shift in approach, more an attempt to use the great minds of the Center more visibly and topically — when at the turn of last year he stepped into the row over who presided over bringing torture into the armory of the U.S military. It wasn’t an investigation as such but Jeff had the attitude and the expertise to shed fresh light on it.

Our multi-media editor Eleanor Bell is going to “put some of these pieces to music” like this short video analysis of John Dunbar on Super-PACs and dark money on YouTube.

This shouldn’t be considered a huge shift. Political lead Dave Levinthal had his bottom practically welded to the chair at C-Span today and is a regular on Al Jazeera. Today, Carrie Levine and Cady Zuvich built on the excellent work we’ve done on tracking the advertising spending to produce a piece on why “nice” ads worked better than attack ads in Iowa. It also comes together in the superb ad-tracker by Chris Zuba-Skees. Michael Beckel showed that nearly a billion dollars has been raised so far without even an actual vote cast in the race to the White House. The team did a nice job looking at where some of the money goes, including to the Trump hat obsession.

Fire in the belly

I was struck talking with a major donor yesterday talking about giving to groups with “fire in their belly”. We may not be advocates but we do want reaction to our work.

Jim Morris notes that the investigation into the failure of the EPA to counter environmental racism, a series by Kristen Lombardi and Talia Buford, reverberates as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights convenes in Washington Friday to take testimony from an Alabama resident and a New York lawyer featured in our stories.

A quite controversial story last year from Jared Bennett which looked at what happened to homeowners whose mortgages were sold by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in large packages to asset management firms on Wall Street has prompted two senators to ask HUD to explain the program. We and the New York Times and others have looked at the issue, some of us from the perspective of the firms packaging large numbers of mortgages as a legacy of the financial crisis and others — us included — for what it meant to have your house to some extent bought and sold underneath you, with significant numbers leading to foreclosures.

ICIJ – teaching by doing

In the ICIJ, Africa editor Will Fitzgibbon has been in Nigeria teaching a workshop on investigative journalism for local reporters. It's one of a handful of trips (funded independently by various NGOs) Will has made in the past 18 months that have combined training and hands-on reporting, and that have also become an important outreach tool for ICIJ as we build our network in Africa. Will led the remarkable Fatal Extraction project on the ground.

ICJJ reporter Hamish Boland-Rudder points out the ICIJ has also had some terrific ongoing impact over the course of January: European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager publicly thanked the Luxembourg Leaks reporters and whistleblowers for their integral role in shedding light on questionable corporate tax maneuvers practiced by some of the world's largest companies; and U.S authorities announced a new clamp down on anonymous buyers using the luxury real estate market in cities like New York and Miami to hide "dirty money" - ICIJ reported on this in 2014 (long before the New York Times took on the same subject.).

New recruit

A great new recruit to the Center’s Money & Politics state team started this week. Michael Mishak joins the team from the National Journal. We believe our state reporting work and the consortium of state reporters involved in it combined with the huge State Integrity Investigation is a rich area to grow for us.

What we’re reading and thinking about

A great write-up from an important ICIJ member. Gerardo Reyes from Univision wasn't the first reporter to write about why they turned down an interview with notorious drug lord 'El Chapo' Guzmán, but Gerardo's write-up is from the perspective of a dedicated investigative journalist who has spent years telling important stories from Mexico's drug wars. An excellent read about a journalist who ultimately 'chose not to trade his ethics for a scoop,' as recommended by Marina Guevara Walker.

Rafat Ali, an old friend of mine who founded, wrote a highly personal account of his travel news start up Skift. For me there are huge lessons for us and anyone trying to create or turnaround a media organization and how to focus on what matters.

The rise of the news “product manager” has been the story of my business life for the past 15 years and was well described in a Nieman report this week.

I welcome feedback on this note.

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