Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference 2010: The Takeaway

Trends from the 2010 IRE conference (Part 1):

Roll your own

One of the hottest new trends is to start your own non-profit investigative center.   There must of been nearly a dozen centers or outfits that partner with them from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting to InvestigateWest to California Watch to the George Clooney of this “Ocean’s Eleven” (conference was in Vegas): ProPublica.  There’s even an Investigative News Network representing 32 such groups.

Journalists are learning to write grants, court funders and still be afloat once the startup honeymoon ends and somebody’s gotta pay the rent.  They’re talking about collaborations with other news outlets, non-journalism non-profits and universities. [Note to center starters:  State universities, at least in California, do not have a bunch of extra employees who can provide free staffing for your center.  We can, however, share our bad coffee with you.]

Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network‘s Laura Frank advised journalists starting a center to start small so if they fail, they don’t fall so far; identify multiple revenue streams (e.g., grants, partnerships, underwriting and services); and have a purpose (mission statement) up front.

The Berkman Center‘s David Ardia warned journalists to cover their asses legally (investigative reporting = lawsuits) and form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or some other sort of legally recognized structure that separates your personal assets from the center’s.

No surprise then that the conference keynoter was Vivian Schiller, the CEO of the one organization with the greatest experience in this sort of journalism:  NPR, which has prioritized investigative journalism lately.

Other centers, foundations and/or organizations showing them some love on the conference schedule:

Center for Investigative Reporting

Center for Public Integrity

Texas Tribune

Texas Watchdog

The Watchdog Institute

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Voice of San Diego

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2 thoughts on “Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference 2010: The Takeaway

  1. I think this is the future. If investigative journalism is to survive, a non-profit approach is essential, plus it has a hypothetical advantage of being free from the pressures of the profit-driven / advertising counterparts in the traditional journalism, i.e. circulation numbers and ratings.

    The problem is of course securing funding, which may be difficult when you’re rattling the wrong (right) cages. I think the best way is to create a dual enterprise which generates revenue through services and then reinvests the profit into journalistic activities. These service could include anything from content generation, transcription, paid subject-specific investigative/research work, copy editing, public records analysis, etc. The overhead for this type of work is fairly low – a power outlet, some computers, and a small group of hearty journos, and perhaps a lawyer to boot ( a Dr. Gonzo type character).

    Almost sounds like a thesis project, no??

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