Rita Hibbard

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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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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.

Why did Copenhagen cops arrest InvestigateWest photographer covering climate protest?

Try not to get arrested.

That was my advice to the young journalists traveling thousands of miles to cover the United Nations climate-treaty negotiations going on in Copenhagen this month. I said it because it's a truism: a journalist in jail can't file. He or she is not able to do what he or she is there to do -- send back information for the world to see. And we knew there were likely to be some massive arrests as young activists sought in Copenhagen to spur real commitments to tackling climate change.

Fortunately, InvestigateWest Editor and Executive Director Rita Hibbard was part of the discussion. She quickly followed up my admonition with something like: "But make sure you're close enough to capture the action." She emphasized that we can't very well cover a protest march without being pretty close to the marchers, and that we had a right to be there.


InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow found himself yesterday trying to balance those two pieces of advice in the blur of a fast-moving demonstration. He was in a group of about 275 demonstrators arrested when Copenhagen cops cracked down on a protest that, to that point at least, had been peaceful. (It should be said, though, that the protesters had been pretty open about the fact that they were trying to shut down Copenhagen's harbor.)

Now, Chris probably could have gotten away. InvestigateWest correspondent Alexander Kelly, photograph Mark Malijan and videographer Blair Kelly were there and managed to scoot. But should Chris have been arrested? Absolutely not! It really honks me off that the police not only detained him at the scene -- it's possible to make a mistake in the heat of the moment -- but insisted on taking him to one of the makeshift holding areas that are serving as jails for the climate protesters.