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The Muckraker

Christa Scharfenberg's Blog
Christa Scharfenberg | Update | November 10, 2011

CIR adds technology leadership to its board

We are proud and delighted to announce today that Gabriel Stricker, director of global communications and public affairs at Google, and Joaquin Alvarado, senior vice president for digital innovation at American Public Media, have been elected to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Board of Directors. Stricker and Alvarado bring exceptional experience in strategic communications and technology and a firsthand understanding of how technology is revolutionizing the journalism world.

CIR is the nation’s oldest, independent nonprofit investigative reporting organization. It is at the forefront of the reinvention of journalism and is a leader in the nonprofit investigative reporting field, which is filling the gaps left by the decline of traditional media. 

“Stricker and Alvarado will be invaluable to CIR as we continue to build an innovative digital newsroom and work toward a sustainable future,” said board Chairman Phil Bronstein.

At Google, Stricker addresses everything from web search and other search properties to issues pertaining to partnerships, content, and the use of intellectual property. Stricker refined his expertise in strategic communications through his work in the electoral arena, having played an important role on campaigns for political and governmental clients around the world. Stricker is the author of the bestselling book on guerrilla marketing, “Mao in the Boardroom,” published by St. Martin's Press. 

“I'm thrilled to work with CIR to ensure that high-quality, unique and credible journalism flourishes,” Stricker said. “The progress we make in the coming years will have a hand in transforming journalism’s path in the decades ahead.”

Alvarado oversees the digital portfolio for American Public Media and leads the Public Insight Network, a project that is central to CIR’s public engagement strategy. Previously, Alvarado was senior vice president for diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has spearheaded numerous projects, including CoCo Studios, which promotes media collaboration and information sharing for fiber and mobile networks; the Institute for Next Generation Internet at San Francisco State University; and the National Public Lightpath, which advocates for high-speed fiber-optic networks.

“CIR exemplifies a truly networked newsroom with some of the most talented reporters and producers working today. I am excited and honored to join the board and look forward to doing my part to sustain and grow our impact,” Alvarado said.

Stricker and Alvarado join CIR at a critical time. The organization has undergone a renaissance over the past three years, growing from a staff of seven and budget of $1.7 million to a staff of 32 and budget of nearly $5 million. CIR’s editorial output in that same period has included more than 40 major investigations (most developed for multiple formats and published or broadcast in more than 300 outlets) and more than 1,400 blog entries and Daily Reports. The reporting has had real and lasting impact, leading to new legislation, the closing of legislative loopholes, congressional hearings, changes in corporate governance and significant community engagement. 

CIR Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal said: “We want to be on the forefront of delivering our unique investigative stories to audiences on platforms they are most comfortable with, and to engage them not only in the content of our stories, but also in distribution, information gathering and even the quest for solutions to solve the problems we reveal. Both Gabe and Joaquin can help us attain those goals.”


Christa Scharfenberg | Update | October 19, 2011

CIR, California Watch win 2 Society of Professional Journalists awards


The Center for Investigative Reporting today received two Excellence in Journalism Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter.

California Watch, the largest investigative team in the state, won for Journalism Innovation, "for deftly combining traditional journalism with new ways to connect to communities."

"The Price of Gas," produced by CIR’s Carrie Ching and Sarah Terry-Cobo and animated by Arthur Jones, won in the Explanatory Journalism category for a multimedia daily. The animated feature explains why a $4 gallon of gasoline in the U.S. may cost more like $15, when the carbon footprint and other “external costs” enter the equation.

In 2010, CIR won two SPJ Northern California Chapter awards: California Watch received Journalist of the Year, and reporter G.W. Schulz won in the Online category for "Homeland Security marked by waste, lack of oversight," his investigation detailing waste of federal homeland security funds.


Christa Scharfenberg | Update | October 4, 2011

CIR, San Francisco Film Society present "Behind the Story: Under Suspicion"

The Center for Investigative Reporting and the San Francisco Film Society present Behind the Story: Under Suspicion, at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Film Society’s new theatrical home, San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema (1746 Post St., San Francisco).

Behind the Story, a new series, gives audiences an insider’s look at CIR investigations. Under Suspicion will look at the stories, interviews, videos and an animation that CIR produced in collaboration with NPR to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. CIR’s G.W. Schulz, Andrew Becker, Carrie Ching, Monica Lam, and Michael Corey will all be on hand to present the many elements of the reporting project.

The joint investigation uncovered that Department of Homeland Security programs such as "If You See Something, Say Something" have resulted in suspicious activity reports about innocent citizens, often without their knowledge. The investigation zeroes in on one location, the Mall of America near Minneapolis, where a large private security operation has questioned thousands of people, often passing their information on to police and even the FBI. Most mall visitors interviewed by CIR and NPR said they were unaware that suspicious activity reports describing their encounters with mall security were shared with local police and could remain in law enforcement files for indefinite periods. The project raises questions about the price Americans have paid for increased security since the terrorist attacks.

Tickets are $9 for SFFS members, $11 general, $10 senior/student/disabled. Tickets are available at sffs.org and in person at San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema.

Christa Scharfenberg | Update | October 4, 2011

'Reinventing Journalism' recounts executive director's trials, tribulations in new journalism business model

Today, we’re releasing “Reinventing Journalism,” Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal’s personal account of joining the Center for Investigative Reporting and launching California Watch. We hope that the report, written at the request of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will help other nonprofit reporting ventures learn from our experience and shed light on where the rapidly changing landscape of journalism, and especially investigative reporting, might be headed.

As he says in the opening paragraph, Robert had no idea what he was getting into when he walked into CIR in 2008. “Reinventing Journalism” is his personal account of finding his way: from his own history as a copyboy and young reporter, to assignments around the world, to being in the ring for the collapse of the traditional media business model, to seizing the opportunity to create a new kind of journalism organization, to his own evolution from journalist to what he calls “salesman/evangelical entrepreneur.”

Robert writes about becoming a fundraiser and its excruciating challenges; describes the launch of California Watch and how the distribution and impact of its first stories exceeded his wildest expectations; and addresses the search for sustainability and looking forward to the future of investigative reporting and the nonprofit model. Lastly, he distills his top 10 lessons learned.

“Reinventing Journalism” is available here online and here as a PDF. Or, through a partnership with Byliner, you can download the eBook from Project Gutenberg. Google’s eBookstore and Apple’s iBooks links to come soon.

We’re also hoping you’ll take a look at our new video about California Watch, produced by superstar intern Ariane Wu.

Support CIR through micropayments using Kachingle

Here at CIR we are as concerned about a sustainable future for investigative reporting as we are about producing high-impact journalism that is important to you. For more than three decades, CIR has relied largely on foundations to support our reporting. We are hard at work now to identify more diverse funding sources, including building our individual donor base. We know that our readers, viewers and listeners are a diverse group and that, if you chose to support our work financially, you will have equally diverse goals for your giving.

Some of you may be able to contribute $100, $500, or even $1,000 a year to support our hard hitting investigative work (you can do that over here. Others may be interested in supporting a specific investigation, like the Civil Rights Cold Case Project or The Price of Sex. Still others of you may want one simple way to support a variety of sites you like and depend on.

Introducing Kachingle, one of the first crowdsourcing services that you can use to support your favorite online news sites and blogs. Kachingle is simple, user-centric and user-controlled alternative to cumbersome subscriptions, paywalls, and pay-per-article plans some media outlets are considering. It requires virtually no effort on your part - you just become a Kachingler, giving $5 a month through PayPal, and then click the Kachingle medallion on the sites you want to support. No credit cards, no passwords. Kachingle will keep track of your visits to each of the sites you've selected and at the end of each month, your monthly pay-in to Kachingle (minus small service fees) will be distributed proportionally among your chosen sites based on your visits.

We hope you will become a Kachingler, helping to support journalism's future online, including the time and resource intensive investigative reporting that CIR produces. Your support alone won't save investigative reporting but if enough people decide to start supporting the journalism they care about, collectively we have the power to help ensure that this kind of reporting thrives in the future. Once you become a Kachingler, you can share which sites you support with colleagues, friends, and family (and soon Twitter followers and others), and turn them on to the sites you visit.

Join Kachingle -- and start supporting CIR and the other sites you like today -- by mousing over the medallion to the right of this blog post.

"Banished" screening and conversation with Marco Williams

Join Facing History and CIR for a screening and discussion of Banished, our 2007 documentary produced with Marco Williams of Two Tone Productions.

At the turn of the last century, in communities across the U.S., white residents forced thousands of black families to flee their homes. Many of these towns remain almost entirely white to this day. Banished tells the story of three of these communities and their black descendants, who return to learn their shocking histories.

The event on December 3rd will include excerpts of the film, followed by a conversation with director Marco Williams. A member of the faculty at NYU, Williams is a documentary and fiction film director. His films have been broadcast on cable and public television and have been screened at film festivals throughout the world.

As part of Facing History and Ourselves' national series of Community Conversations, this event is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended. Click here to RSVP. For more information about the event, contact Karen Foster at 510-786-2500 x226 or karen_foster@facing.org.

The Most Dangerous Man in America

This inspiring documentary thriller traces its protagonist's journey from US Marine to upper-echelon Defense Department and Rand Corporation analyst to Vietnam War whistle-blower, while reminding us how democracy relies on our potentially “dangerous” men and women in and out of government.

Sat. October 17, 6:45PM, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center 1
Sun. October 18, 3:15PM, CinéArts @ Sequoia 2

For tickets and more information, visit the Mill Valley Film Festival website.

tel: 877.874.6333

Check out CIR Executive Director Robert Rosenthal's blog post about his time working on the Pentagon Papers project at The New York Times.

Crude, the doc, opening in the Bay Area

Crude, a lively and gripping documentary directed by Joe Berlinger, follows the shifting course of a lawsuit brought by 30,000 Ecuadoreans against Chevron over its responsibility for the country’s contaminated waters and streams. Part of The San Francisco Film Society's second annual Investigative Documentary Week, the film opens for a one-week run at the Landmark Lumiere (San Francisco) and Shattuck (Berkeley) Theaters on Friday, September 25th.

Following the 12:00 noon screening at the Lumiere on Saturday the 26th, CIR board member and San Francisco Chronicle editor-at-large Phil Bronstein will moderate a discussion with Berlinger and Robert Rosenthal, CIR's executive director. The panel, called Slippery Slopes, will address the functions, roles and processes of documentary film as a form of investigative journalism.

Free admission to the Forum; tickets to the film screening must be purchased separately. More information and a theatrical trailer of Crude are available at www.sffs.org.

CIR co-presents two docs at SF International Film Festival

The Center for Investigative Reporting is proud to co-present Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, directed by Andres Østergaard, and A Day Late in Oakland, directed by Zachary Stauffer, at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival – April 23 to May 7, 2009.

I was an intern at the Festival years ago. We are lucky to have it here in the Bay Area and I encourage you to go. It literally brings the world to San Francisco with more than 150 films from everywhere you could imagine (Burkina Faso anyone?) and many of the directors and actors in attendance. I hope you can join CIR for screenings of these films:

Burma VJ – Reporting from a Closed Country
This harrowing, breathless documentary revisits the 2007 protests by hundreds of silent monks and thousands of chanting citizens against Burma’s military dictatorship, using the stunning concealed-camcorder footage smuggled abroad by a network of youthful correspondents that calls itself the Democratic Voice of Burma. Danish filmmaker Anders Ostergaard artfully merges breathless sequences from the smuggled tapes with recreations of the DVB bureau chief Joshua’s cell phone conversations, crafting a harrowing narrative that thrusts us into the protestors’ giddy celebrations and the terrifying aftermath. Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country demonstrates the potential of consumer technology to divert power to the people, but above all salutes the heroes who pressed “record” within eyeshot of the secret police. – Michael Fox

This film screens on May 1 at 6:30PM and on May 2 at 9:15PM at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, and again on May 6 at 8:45PM at the Pacific Film Archive.

A Day Late in Oakland
On the morning after reporter Chauncey Bailey’s murder in 2007, a sordid tale of corruption and abuse stemming from Oakland’s once-mighty Your Black Muslim Bakery unraveled in the press. That same day, a police raid in the works for months stormed the business and found the murder weapon. This short film was made by Zachary Stauffer while he was a student in the documentary program at the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley.

This short film screens with Speaking in Tongues on April 26 at 3:15PM, on May 2 at 3:30PM, and on May 7 at 2:30PM at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

For tickets and information visit www.sffs.org or call 925-866-9559.

Banished screening a hit

The turnout was astounding for ITVS’ Community Cinema screening of Banished at the Oakland (Calif.) Museum last night. Four hundred people watched the film and many more were turned away. (A second screening at the Museum will likely be added in February.) The audience reaction was enthusiastic and animated and the discussion afterward looked at modern day displacements, specifically post-Katrina New Orleans and urban gentrification in Oakland.

As with all of the Banished screenings I’ve been to, audiences are interested in exploring how our society as a whole can explore reparations and reconciliation as a way to right past wrongs. ITVS is holding screenings of the film all over the country leading up to the February 19th PBS broadcast on Independent Lens.

>> Click here to find a screening near you.