How non-profit journalism is changing the "news ecosystem"

InvestigateWest's stories on this week outlined how a super-toxic second generation of rat poisons is mysteriously seeping into the environment, and how the government took a generation to pass rules to keep these rodenticides out of the hands of young children. That might have remained a buried and unnoticed piece of history if not for a new movement sweeping America: nonprofit journalism. It’s an important force that is likely to become a key part of what folks are calling an evolving “news ecosystem” in this country.

This week’s pairing of the efforts of two nonprofit journalism entities with the for-profit is an example of the kind of experimentation that’s becoming common. I wrote the rat-poisons story for InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative journalism center focused on the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia that I helped to found in 2009.

The story idea and the assignment came from Marla Cone, editor at Environmental Health News, another nonprofit journalism center, whose mission is to advance public understanding about environmental health issues. Cone won many accolades as a longtime environmental reporter at the Los Angeles Times before joining EHN in 2008. (Her book “Silent Snow” documents the shockingly high levels of toxic contamination in the Arctic.)


Audio, video, photo and text: when to use what?

The Knight Digital Media Center's trainers Jerry Monti and Len De Groot shared some tips today about how to tell a story in a multimedia world. I'll be here at UC Berkeley for a week and will pass along their tips and sites as they come along.

For me, this morning's biggest takeaway is that no story has to be told in one way: text and photos and audio and video and graphics can all benefit from each other. "We're not looking for exclusivity" of storytelling method, but rather "for dominance," Monti said. "How does that story want to be told?"

Finding the answer can help you be strategic enough to streamline your workflow. Calling the web "a lean forward medium," Monti said that audio works to capture personality and immediacy and can places the listener may not be able to visit themselves. "

On a slideshow, audio can drive the story," he said. Photos, though, provide an opportunity to reflect and can compel people to linger on a subject. Photos can act as a punch in a gut, calling to life a moment and, with it, eliciting empathy and emotion.

Images can provoke reactions that can cause change; the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos provide a compelling example of how publication of images can change policy more than the fact of what those images capture. Video works to take you there and "capture that moment that nothing else can: humor, motion, and interaction," Monti said. "Video is OK for facts, but it’s really for juice so you can leave the facts for the easier to digest piece” -- the text. Text provides that backbone of analysis, framing, context and facts and can do so with emotion and efficiency for both breaking news and in-depth, investigative work.

Live streaming investigative biz journalism conference

I'm in Portland at the Reynolds Center's Investigative Business Journalism conference.  Pulitzer winner Gary Cohn and former Washington Post investigative reporter Alec Klein are leading the day's instruction, which is streaming live on the Web.  You can follow it on Twitter: @BizJournalism#BizJ.

If you're too busy to tune in, check out these five investigative tips.

The Reynolds Center's future free online trainings include Unlocking Financial Statements July 19-23 and How to be an entrepreneur as a business journalist from August 9-13.

Today's agenda:

Had trouble getting info from the government? Tell it to the Datamine project for Sunshine Week

I'd planned for this third of my Sunshine Week posts to write about examples of folks who have had trouble getting the government to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. Public Employees for Environmental responsibility, for example, has a doozy.

I’d also planned to dip into some analysis of the situation from the 30,000-foot view, such as the AP's look at the Obama administration’s increased use of FOIA exemptions by Sharon Theimer.

But today I heard about this cool project in which the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation are asking citizens to contribute to their Datamine project for Sunshine Week. So instead of a longer post, here’s the text of a post I made today to the Society of Environmental Journalists’ SEJ-Talk listserv:

Folks – let me encourage you to take part in this interesting project by the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation to find out about how citizens are doing when they try to get information from the government: .

The questions they’re asking citizens – and journalists are citizens, too – to answer are:

• Has the government denied your attempt to FOIA certain information?
• Are you aware of any government reports or data that are unnecessarily hidden from public view?
• Have you successfully obtained government data, only to find it difficult or impractical to use in today’s electronic environment?

It seems like a cool project. I plan to respond. It’s timed, of course, for Sunshine Week. So reply in the next few days if you can.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal kill enviro-news blogs – is there a need for them?

Do you enjoy reading Dateline Earth? Is there a need for environmental news blogs? I hope the answer to both those questions is yes…. but if not I’d like to hear from you. Tell me: Is this a worthwhile enterprise? Because there are a lot of stories we’d like to get to out there – documents to read, people to call, data to analyze. All that takes time, and writing Dateline Earth costs me time.

Lest you think I’m fishing for compliments, I should point out that my inquiry is prompted by a post today on Columbia Journalism Review’s Observatory blog discussing how the Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal have discontinued their enviro-news blogs.

Both of these publications have storied histories and high journalistic standards.So CJR’s Curtis Brainerd checked in with editors at both sites, asking: whassup?

The answers are, it goes without saying, complex. The WSJ didn’t engage with Brainerd, which is a real shame, because a lot of us out here would like to know what they were thinking.

At the Monitor, sadly, the answer mostly seems to be that they just don’t have the horses any more.

A series of e-mails from Monitor Editor John Yemma to Brainerd offered that the environment is no longer a specialty – so true! Reporters on the city hall and business and feature beats, to name just a few, need to be familiar with what is sure to be the story of the century.

But Yemma also said that the Monitor’s Bright Green blog – the publication’s very first blog, instituted back when the copy had to go through the paper's cumbersome computer editing process for print stories – was discontinued in part because writer Eoin O’Carroll is busy doing something other than environmental journalism:

Daniel Lathrop's picture

Press Release: InvestigateWest photog detained, again

Daniel Lathrop 206-718-0349

InvestigateWest photographer detained in Copenhagen

SEATTLE -- A  journalist on assignment for InvestigateWest to cover
protests outside the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen
was arrested Tuesday -- the second time he has been arrested while
photographing demonstrators. This time, demonstrators were attempting
to enter Copenhagen’s Bella Center, the site of the international
climate talks.

Christopher Crow of Bellingham was taken into custody by police, who
are empowered under a new law to hold demonstrators for up to 12 hours
without filing charges. He was arrested at about Noon local time and
remained in custody as of 6 PM local time.

Crow was previously arrested Sunday and released after 3 ½ hours
without any charges being filed.

In both cases, the officers took Crow away despite the fact that he is
a credentialed journalist carrying out his duty as to document the
unrest in the streets and not a participant in the demonstrations.
Demonstrators are angry about an emerging United Nations treaty that
would allow some companies to profit from fighting climate change.

After his first arrest, InvestigateWest executive director and editor
Rita Hibbard had issued the following statement:

"This is an outrageous affront to the freedom of the press. Reporters
are obligated to cover civil disturbances like the protests in
Copenhagen, and police who arrest journalists are violating their
human rights. Christopher and InvestigateWest are owed an apology by the
Danish authorities and we will be filing a formal protest."

Members of the InvestigateWest team in Copenhagen available for
interviews via Skype.

InvestigateWest interns working hard, kicking butt

InvestigateWest keeps me every bit as busy as I ever was when I worked
in newspapers – even during those soul-draining stretches when I
labored six or seven days a week on major newspaper projects.

Among the many duties that fall to me here at InvestigateWest, there
is one that stands out as the the most fun: working with the
incredible interns we’ve from Western Washington University in
Bellingham, which has one of the best environmental journalism
programs in the nation.

Meet these whip-smart, hardworking young journalists:

[caption id="attachment_4250" align="alignright" width="86" caption="Emily Linroth"]Emily Linroth[/caption]

* Emily Linroth  is entering her senior year at Western. She previously
served as editor of Western’s award-winning environmental journalism
magazine, The Planet. This summer, in addition to her duties as an
InvestigateWest intern, she simultaneously served as editor of Whatcom
, a Bellingham-area monthly focusing on local politics,
environmental news, and community events. Today is Emily’s last day
with InvestigateWest as a summer intern. But in the fall she will be
continuing to work on our Pacific Flyway story as an independent
study. Meanwhile, she’ll be taking classes and continuing to edit
Whatcom Watch. (I have a Warren Zevon quote on the wall of my office:
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I guess it probably applies to Emily,

Emily has done a fantastic job.

Welcome to InvestigateWest

Wow. We never asked for this, never expected it. But we're so happy to be bringing you news of our exciting new way of committing journalism and boosting civic engagement in our society.

It was exactly six months ago today, at 5:01 p.m. on Jan. 8, when I picked up the phone at my desk at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to hear a familiar source from the Environmental Protection Agency ask, "Robert, what is happening with your paper?" I trotted to the TV monitors to learn our paper's future was very much in doubt.

iwlogo1At noon the next day a corporate muckety-muck from New York marched into the newsroom to unabashedly inform us the paper was "for sale," and that if no buyer was found we would soon stop printing the newspaper. That was Friday. By 10 a.m. the next Monday, a few of us were figuring out how we could keep doing this work - the journalism that sustains our democracy.

A blurry and head-spinning half a year later, we're launching InvestigateWest, a journalism studio focused on the environment, public health and social justice issues in western North America. We are out to break stories that inform the public, get citizens involved in helping us report those stories, and educate a new generation of journalists. We want to remake the mold of journalism, as has been necessary a few times before in our republic's history - and which proved crucial to our success as a democracy.

Setting up a non-profit corporation was never something I thought I'd have to do. It's been a huge education.

While the core of our start-up team worked at the Seattle P-I, we have been working hard to learn how to present our stories across news-delivery platforms. We're starting to work with radio and television journalists.