nonprofit journalism

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The power of regional investigative reporting

We have good news about the news business to share. Our work makes a difference!

InvestigateWest's groundbreaking story on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure for health care workers has resulted in the passage of two laws improving worker safety in Washington state, signed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire in April. One of the laws establishes an occupational cancer registry in the state, and the other regulates better regulates toxic compounds, including chemo drugs, in the workplace. That story first appeared on our web site, on msnbc.com, The Seattle Times and in a documentary we co-produced with KCTS 9.

In addition, a measure banning toxic pavement sealants also was signed into law by the governor. That effort came after InvestigateWest  wrote about the issue just over a year ago. With the governor's signature, Washington state became the first state in the nation to ban the sealants, joining a handful of smaller governments across the nation that have taken similar steps. That work appeared on our web site and on msnbc.com.

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

InvestigateWest's stories on msnbc.com 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 msnbc.com 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.)

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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:

State breezes past beryllium risks in stimulus rush to hire for Hanford cleanup

Fellow nonprofit journalism center ProPublica produced this insightful report about how the state of Washington is brushing past the insidious and sometimes lethal risks of beryllium contamination during its stimulus-funded stampede to hire workers to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The report by David Epstein and Krista Kjellman Schmidt shows that the effects are more than just workplace statistics.  They have a human face.

The Huffington Post features InvestigateWest in an article about life after newspapers

Bill Lucey of The Huffington Post featured InvestigateWest in an article about nonprofit investigative journalism in an age of declining for-profit newsrooms.

Lucey, a former South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter, began the interview by asking what it was like to watch the Seattle Post-Intelligencer close.  To be frank, it was horrible.  

But I've replaced that memory with a year of hard work at InvestigateWest. InvestigateWest has already published in-depth stories about the environment with MSNBC.com and about social justice with seattlepi.com, KUOW-FM and the Spokesman-Review.  

We've received support from some of the most sterling foundations out there -- from the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation for our Pacific Northwest Network, from The Bullitt Foundation for our environmental reporting, from the Fund for Investigative Journalism for an upcoming story about government mishandling of our most treasured lands, and from KUOW's Program Venture Fund about Native efforts to stem the tide of drug abuse.  

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InvestigateWest receives $100,000 grant from Ethics & Excellence in Journalism

It's a big accomplishment for InvestigateWest. Our Olympic gold. rita_hibbardwebWe're happy to announce we've been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to continue to do the hard-hitting, regional investigative work we're becoming known for. It's gold, and of Olympic quality, because in this economic climate, it's that hard to come by. And it recognizes true accomplishment in the field of independent, nonprofit journalism.  So forgive us for being a little self-congratulatory before we get back to our hard work. Congratulations to the journalists of InvestigateWest who brought us this far -- Robert McClure and Carol Smith, Kristen Millares Young and Daniel Lathrop. Nice job, everyone! And thanks to the many folks who have supported us out of the goodness of their hearts and wallets over this first 10 months of our lives. And to the good folks at the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation -- to CEO and President Bob Ross and Senior Program Officer Nancy Hodgkinson, and to Sue Hale, who provided valuable insight at the early stages of this long process when we met way back at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in June 2009. The Foundation, based in Oklahoma City and founded  in 1982 by journalist Edith Kinney Gaylord to improve the quality and ethical standards of journalism, has long invested in improving the quality of journalism and journalism education nationwide. This year, it dedicated a portion of its funds specifically to investigative journalism. “The watchdog role of legacy media is in jeopardy due to the economic crisis facing the journalism industry,” Ross said.

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InvestigateWest adds its reporting muscle to national report on Super Bowl perks for Congress

rita_hibbardwebInvestigateWest added its reporting muscle to ProPublica, the investigative reporting organization based in New York, for a report detailing which members of Congress benefited from their status as high-ranking public officials to obtain sought-after tickets to yesterday's Super Bowl.

As ProPublica found, with the help of InvestigateWest, many other media organizations and citizen journalists around the country, interest cooled, perhaps after it became known that media attention was focused on this sometime perk of public office. Or perhaps a record snowstorm had something to do with it.

Was it the two feet of snow that blanketed Washington during the days leading up to the Super Bowl? Or was it the unintended consequence of our Super Bowl Blitz [1], a two-week telephone survey that ProPublica conducted with the help of its readers, trying to find out which members of Congress would be attending this year’s big game?

In any case, at least two Super Bowl fundraising events scheduled by members of Congress were scrubbed at the last minute or moved to undisclosed locations. Invitations to those parties, which had been circulated two or more weeks before the game, promised Super Bowl tickets to contributors who gave either of the lawmakers $5,000.

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InvestigateWest featured in AP story on nonprofit investigative journalism

InvestigateWest's mission is to make sure investigative journalism continues, despite a cratering news industry that has seen massive layoffs among newspapers and other news organizations and budget cutbacks that have seriously curtailed the depth of coverage among remaining staff.

rita_hibbardwebAnd we continue to get recognized as among a small vanguard of media organizations leading the way toward an evolving future.

When national Associated Press business writer Andrew Vanacore wrote recently about whether investigative journalism can continue in nonprofit organizations as cutbacks occur in the for-profit model, he interviewed the big players in the independent scene - ProPublica based in New York, the Center for Investigative Reporting in California and the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., and InvestigateWest in Seattle. The difference is that ProPublica has a newsroom budget of $10 million, most of it coming from the Sandler Foundation, backed by financiers Herbert and Marion Sandler. CPI and CIR are veterans of the nonprofit, investigative world, having done their good work for 20 years or more. InvestigateWest is an upstart, six months old, scrappy and working hard to earn its keep.

Andrew and I talked a few days before InvestigateWest reporter Robert McClure had a story featured on msnbc.com, which drew 400,000 pageviews during its time in the lead position on Jan. 12.