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Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!

With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.

At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.

“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”

InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.

InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use.

 “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”

Byline: 

InvestigateWest interns take prizes in regional SPJ contest for universities

Yahoo! We just received word that Alexander Kelly, InvestigateWest's correspondent at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, won first place in the online news category for universities in the annual contest of the Society of Professsional Journalists, Northwest region.

It brings back the bleary-eyed December nights Alex and I worked from different sides of the Atlantic -- not to mention tireless toil by videographer Blair Kelly and photographers Mark Malijan and Christopher Crow. It was exhausting! We weren't doing it for a prize, but it sure feels good for Alex to win one.

It was the second award for InvestigateWest coming out of the climate summit. Malijan also won a National Press Photographers Association prize for the excellent photos he shot in Copenhagen. (In another Copenhagen update, Crow has produced an audio piece on the conference. It runs over 30 minutes, which might help explain why I haven't been able to download it and listen to it yet. If it gets posted on the web, I'll let people know.)

The Dateline Earth posts from Copenhagen that Alex submitted to SPJ focused on varied topics out of the international climate meeting including controversial Ethiopian strongman and alleged genocide perpetrator Meles Zenawi's role in the talks; criticism of a United Nations-brokered timber pact; and UN officials'  exclusion of our journalists from the meeting hall where the negotiations  were held.

The InvestigateWest quartet also did a great job covering the massive street protests, and brought home interviews with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and then-Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Obama administration pounds chest about transparency, but will have to better than this

The other day the Obama administration's "Chief Information Officer" -- or CIO... isn't that clever? -- was in Seattle decrying a "culture of faceless unaccountability" in government. His boast:

"This is part of the President's agenda: to make sure we’re hardwiring transparency into the culture of the federal government."

What a bunch of horse patootie.

At least that's the way Vivek Kundra's chest-beating looks from the trenches, for me and for other journalists trying to get information from the federal government, and particularly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kundra's statement in front of a geek-heavy audience in Seattle is worth examining now because today kicks off Sunshine Week, the annual exercise in which open-government activists yap it up with fellow citizens about the importance of our democratic government being truly transparent with citizens. As a journalist, a fair amount of what I do is find out what government is up to, and tell my fellow citizens.

Now,  Kundra's statement about Obama's agenda may be correct. But I'm here to tell you, friends, that the agenda ain't trickling down to the trenches.

Want proof? In this post today I'll detail how the EPA simply failed to engage with us for a recent InvestigateWest story of great nationwide importance.

Obama administration tries to sell itself as more open and transparent; don't believe it

Friends, it's Sunshine Week, the annual push by those who would democratize our government by opening up our government to make our case. So Dateline Earth is taking a one-week hiatus while I populate InvestigateWest's From The Field blog with tales of how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is failing to engage with me and other journalists; how the EPA routinely drags out simple requests for public records; how the Obama administration is going to court to fight numerous requests for public records; and how the Obama administration is no better than George W. Bush's when it comes to squelching government scientists. Finally, courtesy of the Society of Environmental Journalists, we'll provide a list of important information sources for citizens, citizen journalists and yes even full-time journalists to use in prying information out of the government. It's all over at our From The Field blog.

-- Robert McClure  

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:

Toxic parking lots shed dust that boosts kids' cancer risk, InvestigateWest says in major story

rm iwest mugOK, folks, it's the moment we've all been waiting for since we launched InvestigateWest last year: Our first big story is running today! And it's on msnbc.com, so we expect a lot of eyeballs to be on this 0ne.

This is an amazing tale about a series of studies that this week revealed that toxic dust from parking lots is making its way into Americans' homes in eyebrow-raising quantities. And because it's ending up in house dust, it's a particular worry for kids, for whom it raises lifetime cancer risks significantly, according to research led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Please go read the story, will you? We want to get all the clicks we can over at msnbc.com. But do come back and visit Dateline Earth in the next week or so, because there was really quite a bit we didn't get to get into, even in the decently in-depth treatment we were able to give the topic for msnbc.com.

InvestigateWest has been proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, including our independent coverage of the Copenhagen climate talks, organizing into a non-profit, getting an incredibly talented board up and running, and landing grants from the Bullitt Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

But this toxic parking lots piece is a great example of our main reason for being: In-depth journalism on the environment, public health and social-justice issues (although this coal tar thing, in an unusual twist, seems likely to be more of a problem for well-to-do suburban families than for poor folks.

We'll be back after a word (or several thousand) for our sponsor: In-depth journalism

rm iwest mugFolks, I said when I was starting what turned out to be just a tiny bit of time off over the holidays that Dateline Earth would return in early January. While I still hope that will be true -- early January technically runs through the 15th, right? -- it's going to be a little longer than I'd hoped.

The reason: I'm wrapping up an in-depth story. Remember those? This first major outing for me under the InvestigateWest banner promises to be eye-opening for those interested in environmental health. I need to concentrate on finishing the writing, fact-checking, and so forth.

Then I'll be back with posts about that story; about the topics I mentioned when exiting stage right around Christmas, including one idea about how to start the process of reversing global warming; and reflections from the Multimedia Reporting and Convergence Workshop next week at the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored by the Knight Digital Media Center and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. I was selected in a highly competitive process and look forward to the 12-hour days there because I'll learn a lot about multimedia methods to present our in-depth journalism.

Until then...

-- Robert McClure

 

Thanks to Sightline Institute

Today InvestigateWest Executive Director Rita Hibbard and I had the great pleasure of talking with Alan Durning, executive director of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank aimed at creating a sustainable society in Cascadia.

As a newbie in the surprisingly complicated world of non-profits, and one who had done very little fundraising before we started InvestigateWest a few months ago, I was relieved to hear that Durning had no experience raising funds when he launched Sightline in the early 1990s. He just had a good idea. And so do we.

With Communications Director Nate Kommers, Durning gave us an overview of how he built Sightline, which originally was called Northwest Environment Watch. It's a group I've appreciated as a reporter because, while they are advocates for doing the right thing by Mother Earth, they are also driven by facts and data. It's how they look at the world. And unlike some enviros, they understand that for a policy to succeed, it has to work for people, too.

Sightline's done some groundbreaking work, particularly their Cascadia Scorecard ("measuring what matters") and in revamping the old Tidepool.org daily enviro news summary into Sightline Daily ("news that matters.") Their "Daily Score" blog is also worth checking out. (Today's offering: "Mapping 7 deadly sins, and 2 virtues.")

We talked about how Durning built the group from two people with no dough into a 15-person organization with a $1.3 million annual budget.