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The Muckraker

Robert Rosenthal's Blog
Robert Rosenthal | Update | December 12, 2011

In a sea of news aggregators, CIR creates hard-hitting work

In an age of aggregators, the Center for Investigative Reporting is a multimedia content creator. We invest our resources in covering underreported stories that traditional media can no longer afford to pursue.

While newspapers have continued to shrink, CIR’s staff has more than quadrupled since 2008, from seven to 32 people. Our highly skilled journalists have expertise that is increasingly rare in budget-strapped newsrooms. They cultivate deep sources, find hidden documents, make sense of complicated issues and develop this information into compelling stories delivered to the outlets you rely on for news.

Our data and digital teams plumb this research and create sophisticated data visualizations, interactive maps and tools that help you understand issues from the macro to the micro level. Our radio, video and digital producers work with our reporters to create engaging documentaries, web videos and even animations that demystify complex topics. Our distribution staff places the work and promotes it across hundreds of outlets. Our community engagement and social media team then works to actively engage the public and make sure our reporting gets to those most affected by it.

In today’s media landscape, much of what passes for “news” is in fact commentary, opinion or even invective. Many news organizations no longer report; they merely repost. CIR is different. We arm the public with thoroughly reported facts and with deep explanations of complex issues from the environment to immigration, government accountability, education, health, campaign finance and more — locally, nationally and internationally.

Rather than covering daily news, CIR reports on the larger systems, power dynamics and forces that shape our world. Our reporting enables people to demand accountability from government, corporations and others in power.

Our California Lost series explores communities that are neglected, disenfranchised, and lacking government services and protections. Recent reports have looked at worker housing conditions in the trailer parks of the Eastern Coachella Valley and environmental pollution in the Southern California town of Maywood. These stories don’t just examine one issue; they look at many of the factors affecting people in these communities and follow them back to the numerous parties responsible, from mobile home park owners to county transportation and land management agencies to California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control to a Utah-based soil recycling company that leases land from the Cabazon Band of
Mission Indians.

CIR is committed to “story before glory:” Rather than compete with other news organizations, we bring media partners together to collaborate on big stories. We partnered with NPR for our investigation into intelligence gathering 10 years after the 9/11 attacks. In California, we are leading a collaboration of 12 media outlets to report on a proposed $98 billion high-speed rail system, which would be the most expensive public works project in the state’s history. These partnerships exponentially increase the reporting capacity, audience reach and potential impact of our reporting. Together, we are accomplishing goals that none of us could alone.

Now there’s something to tweet about.

Support Center for Investigative Reporting

Robert Rosenthal | Update | December 12, 2011

Beyond the Story: Impact

Since 1977, CIR has been on the forefront of nonprofit investigative reporting, telling thousands of stories on all platforms and through prominent outlets, reaching millions.

Over the years, these stories have sparked federal legislation, policy at all levels of government, United Nations resolutions, public interest lawsuits and changes in corporate practices.

Here are a few examples from the past year:

A Senate committee launches a probe after a CIR investigation found that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has done little to improve the nation’s intelligence data.

A police chief resigns amid an FBI investigation and murderers are convicted following dogged reporting by The Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of dozens of news organizations, including CIR, into the murder of Oakland Post editor Bailey by a corrupt group about which he was reporting.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signs two new bills following California Watch stories. One prevents unfair seizures of vehicles from immigrants, and the other removes lead-tainted products — many marketed to children — from store shelves.

A grand jury is convened following reporting by Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La., that identified a leading suspect in the unsolved 1964 murder of Frank Morris. Nelson is part of The Civil Rights Cold Case Project, a collaboration of award-winning journalists, documentary filmmakers, civil rights attorneys, universities and others working together to seek truth; create conditions for justice; and foster reconciliation connected with hundreds of unsolved, racially motivated murders from the Civil Rights era.

Bureaucratic shakeup, rule changes and two separate internal investigations at the California state architect’s office, plus the release of $200 million in bond funds for seismic safety of K-12 schools, follow a California Watch investigation that revealed the failure to fully enforce the state’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools.

The U.S. State Department requests copies of “The Price of Sex,” the documentary film about international sex trafficking, to use for training at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and in embassies around the world.

New laws and penalties are put in place for nursing homes after California Watch revealed that hundreds of homes took money from a taxpayer fund intended to hire staff and boost wages in the name of quality care, but actually cut staff and reduced wages.

The superintendent of public instruction in California calls for an immediate review of school textbooks and a community group gathers 20,000 signatures in opposition to a curriculum after our environmental reporter discovered that the American Chemistry Council directly provided textbook passages that downplayed the environmental risks of plastic grocery bags.

The state Department of Real Estate launches an investigation after we reported about a Southern California housekeeper who was scammed by an unlicensed mortgage lender. At least one reader was so moved by the housekeeper’s story that he donated money directly to her.

Support Center for Investigative Reporting

Robert Rosenthal | Update: The Price of Sex | October 17, 2011

Chakarova Wins Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting


Image courtesy Mimi Chakarova

On Saturday, Oct. 15, Mimi Chakarova and the Center for Investigative Reporting received a prestigious Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting for "The Price of Sex." Chakarova’s documentary exposes the shadowy world of sex trafficking from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Western Europe. The award, given by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was announced at the seventh Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev, Ukraine. Named in honor of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was slain by militants in Pakistan in 2002, the awards were created to honor cross-border investigative reporting.

Awards judge Ginger Thompson of The New York Times said: “Her attention to detail and dignity in her portrayals of victims and the breathtaking courage she showed during her forays into the criminal underworld should serve as the professional standard to which all investigative reporters aspire.”

“The Price of Sex,” winner of the Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, will have its San Francisco, Calif., premiere Nov. 5, part of the San Francisco Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay festival. A full list of screenings is here.


The enduring ambition of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project

This article originally ran in the Fall 2011 edition of Nieman Reports.

Soon after I arrived at the Center for Investigative Reporting in January 2008, I spoke with reporter John Fleming of The Anniston (Ala.) Star. He was looking for help investigating a cold murder case from the civil rights era. Within weeks I learned of other journalists in the South and elsewhere who were working on similar cases. Two of them, Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi and Canadian documentary filmmaker David Ridgen, had done acclaimed work that helped bring killers to justice and some small measure of peace to the families of the victims.

In the early spring of 2008 I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to talk about collaboration and the funding of cold case reporting with Mitchell; Ridgen; Fleming; Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel, a weekly paper in Ferriday, Louisiana; and Aynsley Vogel of the Vancouver-based Paperny Films. Our unifying motivation was storytelling, justice and even reconciliation. I wanted to create a project of an ambitious sweep that would tell the untold stories of killers, victims and their families in ways that would tie together a shameful chapter in American history and link it in powerful arcs to today. What I didn't know going in was how inspired I'd feel by hearing these journalists share fragments from their work that spoke to why telling these stories mattered to them—and should matter to all of us.

Nelson was born in Ferriday and raised in a neighboring parish, across the Mississippi River from Natchez. It is Deep South, as Nelson is Deep South. He delivered serious words in a heavy drawl with a measured resonant cadence. I respected and understood his role as the hard-working editor of a newspaper that was central to his community. We came from different worlds but shared the love of story and a core belief that journalists in our democracy have a responsibility to be a catalyst for justice and accountability.

In 2007 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) put out a list of about 100 unsolved civil rights era cold case killings, the oldest dating to 1946. Nelson was stunned to learn that a man named Frank Morris had been burned to death in Ferriday in 1964. "I was 9 years old [when Morris was killed] and I never knew about it," he told me. After the Sentinel published his initial story about the case, people in Ferriday complained to the paper about dredging up the past. Let it lie, they said.

One day Nelson was in his office when a black man he had known for most of his life came to see him. He recounted the visit for us, telling us what he'd been told that day. The man said that his three sisters had drowned on the day before Thanksgiving in 1968. He was told that the girls had been fishing on a local pond when their boat capsized. In telling the story to Nelson, he let him know that it had been a cold rainy day, and his sisters had never been fishing before. Nor did they did know how to swim. All three girls were missing clothing.

Nelson was stunned. Though he had known this man for many years, until that day he did not know that the man had had sisters. "Then the man said, 'Stanley, the killers are still walking among us.' "

As Nelson said this, a chill ran down my spine. His words clearly affected the others, too. By the time we left Jackson we had decided to act as a team to go after unsolved killings from decades ago that still reverberate through the South. Our resolve ushered in the Civil Rights Cold Case Project, coordinated by CIR and Paperny Films. But when I started (with the help of others) to raise funds for the project, foundation philanthropy was in retreat along with the global economy. From the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, we secured early organizational funding, and from the Open Society Institute we received funding to help build a website. The project also received developmental funding from the Corporation from Public Broadcasting and public television station WNET.

The potential collaboration we sought would have included WNET, NPR, the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University, MediaStorm, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, as well as Howard University and other historically black colleges. We wanted a well-coordinated, multiplatform, long-term investigative project to tackle the FBI's known cold cases and discover others. To direct our efforts, Hank Klibanoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and coauthor of "The Race Beat," came on as managing editor.

We had reporters and cases along with the will and skill to do something special. What we still don't have is the funding for us to act on our ambition. A smaller, more limited version of the project survives. With the help of Klibanoff and others, including the Syracuse University project, Nelson has kept on the Morris case, as the other team members pursue cases when time and resources permit. CIR helps financially when it can, but the project's outlays have not come close to compensating reporters for the time they've spent digging into these cases. In four years Nelson has written more than 150 stories about the Morris case; it's my belief that his work has been a catalyst for the convening of a grand jury in Concordia Parish. Its work on the case is unfinished.

Frustration surfaces when I encounter an absence of interest from potential funders. Perhaps to them these cases happened then and lack relevance to their stated goals today. Then there is the issue of the time I can devote to this effort since my role in building and sustaining CIR is a relentless challenge. Yet the editor and reporter in me appreciate the value these stories hold and recognize the time to investigate them is closing. Knowledge of the past is crucial, yet family survivors are aging, memories are fading, and witnesses and suspects are dying. In many of these cold cases, FBI files have not been made public and their information would doubtless bring us closer to the truth of what happened.

Nelson's work speaks for itself. With a newsroom staff of three, his weekly community newspaper reaches 5,000 readers. This spring his stories about the Morris case made him a Pulitzer finalist. His reporting is a beacon of what's possible. As Klibanoff reminds us: "Every unsolved Southern civil rights era murder that has been opened or reopened and prosecuted or reprosecuted in the last 20 years has been because of a journalist."

And Nelson has not forgotten the man's three sisters.


Animating the future of investigative reporting

The use of animation to tell an investigative story is something that is relatively new here at the Center for Investigative Reporting. But it's a form of nontraditional storytelling that fits into our strategy of telling stories on multiple platforms with the goal of reaching a wide and diverse audience – and delivering the story in the form readers enjoy and are most comfortable with.

We released a major investigative project on Wednesday in collaboration with NPR and PBS' "NewsHour." It had all the elements of our collaborative model: print, radio and broadcast reports; exclusive documents made available in DocumentCloud; a transparent description by CIR’s homeland security reporter, G.W. Schulz, of how we produced the story; interactive multimedia; stand-alone online video; and maps. But until about a month ago, we did not have animation.

That's when CIR Senior Multimedia Producer Carrie Ching stepped up. Ching had produced a highly successful animation several months ago working with reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo and illustrator Arthur Jones called, "The Price of Gas." The animation flew across the web and brought CIR’s brand and journalism to new audiences. It has since been nominated for an Online News Association award.

What captured my attention were three things: the large audience it attracted (more than 92,074 views), how many other websites wanted to use it (from Time magazine to Rolling Stone and Mother Jones) and the simple, yet complicated story it told. The animation told an investigative story with just the right touch of humor.

Ching’s challenge working with Jones, who is based in New York, on the "Suspect America" animation was to present a deep investigative story on which CIR reporters Schulz and Andrew Becker had spent a year, including five months with NPR. She was able to distill it into a four-minute video. Ching consolidated the endless documents, data and interviews down to a script that was more lighthearted than our main investigation but preserved the credibility and accuracy of the original report. The idea was that we wanted the animation to let a potentially different audience know that suspicious activity reports exist and that they might be relevant to their lives.

“With animation, we were able to break the reporting down and simplify the storytelling – we could use humor and wit, which journalists normally shy away from,” Ching said. “I think people are hungry for smart journalism that's also compelling to watch and stylistically sharp. So far, it's been a great success.”

Jones said: "Animation takes tough subject matter and makes it seem less daunting. It's also an easy way of editorializing content to make the message of a story more immediately coherent to a wide audience."

All of us at CIR also think it worked. We hope the animation will create enough curiosity for audiences that may not have read, heard or seen any of the other elements of our homeland security investigation with NPR to click through our video and find those pieces on our America’s War Within website. We hope you’ll take a look and let us know what you think. Leave a comment below or tweet us with the hashtag #undersuspicion.

Robert Rosenthal | Update | June 13, 2011

A young journalist witnesses history with Pentagon Papers

Robert Rosenthal worked with The New York Times team on the Pentagon Papers
series in 1971. Image courtesy Ariane Wu/Center for Investigative Reporting

When the phone rang at the The New York Times on a Saturday afternoon 40 years ago, I picked it up after a couple of rings.

"Foreign desk," I said. 

There was an excited, agitated man on the other end: "I need to speak to Neil Sheehan, I need him right away, and it's urgent. I have to talk to him."

I was on the periphery to one of journalism's most important moments. The Times was a few hours away from printing the first installment of the Pentagon Papers in the edition of June 13, 1971.

And for weeks, I had been part of the team secretly cloistered at the Hilton Hotel. I knew where Sheehan, the lead reporter on the project, was, but I wasn't about to say where.

"Who is this, please?" I asked.

"This is Daniel Ellsberg, and I need Sheehan. It's urgent."

At that moment, I had no idea who Ellsberg was, but I knew he was very agitated, and I thought it might be important. Times editors were huddled around a desk a few feet away from me. There was an intense air of excitement and anticipation around all of us. No newspaper had ever done what The Times was about to do: publish a multi-part series based on still-classified "top secret" documents.

I interrupted the editors.

"There's a guy on the phone who's incredibly excited and he says he has to talk to Sheehan, and he said his name is Daniel Ellsberg," I said.

Two of the editors took a step back and began waving their arms in a circular motion, saying, "No. No. No." I saw one of them mouth, "It's the source."

I remember thinking, "Holy shit."

"Tell him you don't know where he is and hang up," one of them said.

A few hours later, I watched as a team of foremen in the pressroom wheeled in the pages of type that had been set secretly for the Sunday edition's first installment.

When the papers came off the press, I grabbed a few, took a cab from the West 43rd Street Times building and went to the Hilton on 6th Avenue. I was so excited I could barely breathe as I knocked on the door of a room where Sheehan and other reporters and editors on the project were waiting for the bulldog edition.

They all grabbed at the A section as I tossed them on a bed. They all read quietly, shaking their heads. Months of work were in their hands. They were looking for typos, checking out the headlines, reading work they all almost knew by heart.

By Sunday night, there was almost zero reaction to the first day's installment. The mood was fairly grim at the Hilton. Monday's installment with the headline, "Vietnam Archive: A Consensus to Bomb Developed Before '64 Election, Study Says," also did not generate much reaction.

But from the Nixon White House, a reaction was coming.

Late on the afternoon of June 14, a telegram was sent to The Times. I was in the third-floor wire room of The Times newsroom. This was where all the stories came in from the wire services and from Times correspondents around the nation and world. The room chattered with clacking keys, and sheets of paper spewed from dozens of machines.

The Times may have been told a telegram was coming from Attorney General John Mitchell. For some reason, I was right there and watched as the type came pounding across the page addressed to "Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, president and publisher of The Times."

The telegram said The Times on June 13 and 14 had published "information relating to the national defense of the United States and bears a top secret classification. As such, publication of this information is directly prohibited by the provisions of the Espionage Law. ..."

The telegram concluded:

"Accordingly, I respectfully request that you publish no further information of this character and advise me that you have made arrangements for the return of these documents to the Department of Defense."

This was another holy shit moment. I tore the telegram off the machine and ran to the foreign desk and handed it to Jim Greenfield, foreign editor of The Times.

Sulzberger was on his way to London. Within a few minutes, Greenfield said, "Come with me," and I was riding an elevator to the publisher's office on the 11th floor of The Times. Sulzberger was due to land at Heathrow Airport, and Tony Lewis, the London bureau chief, was sent to the airport, where he was waiting for Sulzberger with an open phone line.

I sat in the room holding a phone with Tony Lewis on the other end. In the room were Greenfield; Harding Bancroft, executive vice president of The Times; Managing Editor A.M. Rosenthal, who is not related to me; Times Vice Presidents James Goodale and Sydney Gruson; and others.

The argument about whether to publish or not, and what advice to give Sulzberger, was explosive. I remember some of it, but mostly I remember thinking, "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm sitting here. The Kingdom and the Power. The Kingdom and the Power."

I was 22 years old, and this was a graduate school education you could not find anywhere.

Sulzberger's plane finally landed. I don't recall who took the phone from me; it may have been Bancroft or Goodale. Downstairs in the newsroom, word had spread that the Nixon administration was trying to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers. This was truly a historic moment. The foreign desk was surrounded by pressmen, wearing ink-stained coveralls and little hats they'd made out of newsprint. Deadlines were going by. The press run had actually been stopped.

The decision was made to publish. Everyone crowded into the elevator. It was silent and you could smell the tension and the lingering cigarette smoke.

Abe Rosenthal knew my father very well. He had been his journalism professor at City College in New York. He was in front of me in the elevator. He could barely turn, but he did. He looked me in the eye and said, as he punctuated every word with a poke to my chest, "Don't ever ... repeat ... a word ... you heard tonight ... to a living person... not even your father."

I think I nodded. Remembering that moment makes me wide-eyed today.

We reached the third floor.

Rosenthal strode into the newsroom. He pumped his fist in the air and yelled, "We are going to publish!" The pressmen cheered. I felt a rush of adrenaline going up and down my spine. I got chills.

The next morning, the headline in The Times read: "Mitchell Seeks to Halt Series on Vietnam but Times Refuses." The third installment of the Pentagon Papers headline was, "Vietnam Archive: Study Tells How Johnson Secretly Opened Way to Ground Combat."

That Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Gurfein ordered The Times to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers. On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Times, and after 15 days, the series resumed. During those days, Ellsberg had eluded the FBI, and papers across the country published versions of the study.

As a very young man, I learned values during those months that have framed my entire career. Investigative reporting, and the role of journalism, is crucial to democracy and, if done well, has value to every American.


Unusual partnership helps bring justice for Chauncey Bailey


Antoine Mackey, Yusuf Bey IV, and Devaughndre Broussard. Yusuf Bey was convicted of three counts of murder today. Image courtesy Carrie Ching/CIR.

The first meetings of the Chauncey Bailey Project in the summer of 2007 were unruly, sometimes angry and for many of the journalists in the room saturated with grief.

There were reporters and editors from across the Bay Area who knew Chauncey Bailey, had worked with him, and knew his young son.

There was also some fear. A journalist had been targeted, assassinated, shortly after breakfast one morning, as he walked to work. Why? From that moment on, other journalists in the Bay area wanted to answer that question and they wanted to make sure that those involved in killing Bailey were brought to justice.

Nearly four years after Bailey's killing, there is justice. Former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV — who a prosecutor said terrorized Oakland — was convicted today of three counts of murder for ordering Bailey and two other men killed in summer 2007.

From the beginning the Chauncey Bailey Project wanted to send the message that when a journalist is killed because of their work, other journalists will step forward and make sure there is accountability.

The best investigative reporting exposes, reveals and explains issues or situations that are frequently hidden from the public for a huge range of reasons. Investigative reporting is slow, often painstaking work. Leads are followed that go nowhere. Sources must be developed. Your facts must be iron clad.

The CBP project start was complicated. There were volunteers and staffers from many news organizations. There were differing values, competing platforms, and reporters working together who had been competing. But the CBP project was formed because no single newsroom in the Bay Area had the resources or staff to commit multiple people to the story over a long period of time.

But together the group could succeed.

The three key reporters on the project were Tom Peele, who was detached from the Bay Area News Group; Mary Fricker, a retired investigative reporter from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat; and Bob Butler, who had recently been laid off by KCBS radio. Three different reporters and personalities who formed a trusted and relentless reporting team right out of central casting.

They stuck with the story over nearly two years. One key factor in the success of the project was a commitment to the story and time. A key moment in the investigation occurred more than a year after Bailey was killed.

A source was ready to divulge key information to the reporters. But there was one stipulation and concern. The source feared that the reporters would leave the story and that the project's commitment would falter.

If you go away the story goes away, the source told the reporters. Without you, they were told, there will not be justice.

The reporters stayed on the story, there was commitment from the CBP, and they were committed.

There is a broader lesson in the success of CBP. In today's journalism world, collaboration is frequently essential. The CBP epitomized that. These verdicts and the work of the CBP are a powerful reminder that investigative reporting plays a crucial role in our democracy.

It's a form of journalism that is costly and time-consuming. It can be risky and it is hard work. But it's essential work that when done well protects all of us and those who really have no one else to protect their rights.

Robert Rosenthal is executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and executive editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project.


Robert Rosenthal | April 7, 2011

Investigating seismic safety before there are victims

Investigative reporting is difficult work. It takes unique skills. You don't just say to a reporter find out what's wrong here. It takes sources, digging and time to peel back the layers around a systematic failure. It also takes a certain type of bull-headed, persistent reporter. It takes luck, support and many other ingredients, some obvious, some secret to the sauce. And it takes the skills to tell the story so that it is accessible, understandable, fact-based and fair.

The series launched tonight by the Center for Investigative Reporting's California Watch project about seismic safety in schools throughout California is a story that fortunately does not have any victims.

It was one of the first stories we embarked upon when California Watch started 19 months ago and reporter Corey G. Johnson joined our staff. It has been an arduous process, supported by others, but Johnson’s tenacity has been admirable and painstakingly thorough. Many other reporters, editors and producers have played critical roles bringing this series home.

We believe this is an important series of stories because it reveals problems and issues before a school is badly damaged in a quake and a child or teacher is hurt or killed.

Johnson and the rest of the team of reporters have been asking the types of questions that other news organizations would be asking, after the fact, if a school had been damaged or collapsed in a quake.

What we have done here is ask those questions and investigate before the potentially catastrophic event.

We are not saying disasters are imminent. What we are saying is that now is the time to check and look at issues that might exist in schools and other buildings throughout California.

Without appearing to be shrill or alarmist, these stories say, “take action.” They say to the public and officials this is the time to engage and understand what is safe and not in good shape or certified in your communities’ schools.

Through a wide, varied and multi-platform distribution partnership this package of stories should reach millions of people.

The best investigative reporting lays bare issues, reveals, exposes and has a crucial role in our society to protect democracy. We will help audiences engage in this story, but there are times when it is up to the public to take responsibility as well.

In the days, weeks and months ahead we will continue to report on these issues and questions our work has raised. We will see if problems are solved and if there are solutions offered. We know we have many other avenues to explore. Our reporting has revealed to us, and by extension, the public, a range of issues that should be debated and hopefully addressed.


Lots of activity in our bubbling, journalistic petri dish

I was in senior management at big newspapers for nearly 15 years. In all that time I was never involved in a strategic, content-driven growth initiative that involved hiring and planning for the creation of a new team.

There were one-off hires where you were looking for a certain fit, and there were opportunities to divert staff in the newsroom or to ask people to switch jobs and then convince them why the new job was a great opportunity. And there were times you had to ask someone to do something that you believed was for the good of the organization but which you knew the person would not like. All part of managing. 

When I started as executive director at the Center for Investigative Reporting in January 2008, we had a staff of eight. With hires that we announced this week for California Watch, we now have 26 staffers.

Managing growth is complicated. It is challenging; it can be difficult, but it is fun. I'm sorry to say I had a lot more experience in cutting staff, and it was not fun. Truth be told, I was not very good at it. Hence my departure from two previous editing posts.

When building a team without really knowing the skill sets or the personalities of each person, there is a certain gamble you take. You rely on your gut, references, past work and the energy and passion you feel from someone who is willing to take a risk and be part of a new venture. Sometimes you've worked with someone and that makes it easier. Even though CIR has been around for 33 years, we feel like we're hiring for a startup – a startup with a great legacy. 

Our next hires will be for very nontraditional jobs – jobs that will help us distribute our stories, both through legacy media and through new media partners and social media. We will also be looking for someone who can lead and innovate around content and technology and coordinate our efforts to tell stories utilizing the evolving technologies. We will also be seeking an individual with a business background who can help us with revenue generation, marketing, branding – all the things a business needs to survive.

We are a nonprofit, but we are working to alleviate our dependence on foundations that account for the vast majority of our income. Our goal is to create a model to support high-quality journalism and investigative reporting. We have built an editorial team and now we must build the business infrastruture.

Gene Roberts forgive me. I sound like a publisher, but I have to admit that's what I have also become. But while wearing my publisher hat, my goal is not focused on making a profit. Instead, it's about sustaining our operation in the midst of this transitional, transformational era. I want to keep these 26 staffers working for a long time.

To help do it, we need to all think like entrepreneurs. Our value is based on the work we produce. Our success is going to be measured in strong journalism, credibility and unique and traditional ways of story telling. And if we can create an application or an informational tool that generates widespread interest, or even revenue, it will go back into the operation so that we – and the journalism community that we are part of – can learn.  Whatever we do here that works, or does not work, will be shared.

We are in a bubbling petri dish surrounded by opportunity on the run. And yes, it continues to be exciting, fun and challenging. 

California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and is now the largest investigative reporting team operating in the state. Visit the Web site at www.californiawatch.org for in-depth coverage of K-12 schools, higher education, money and politics, health and welfare, public safety and the environment.

California Watch reaches new partners with seismic story

The California Watch distribution model is working. And every time we push out a story we learn something new. 

This week California Watch published a report by higher education reporter Erica Perez that showed how California’s public universities are slow to fix buildings deemed a significant seismic hazard. The story was broadcast on television and radio and appeared in newspapers and online Web sites. Even one college campus newspaper published the story (the Daily 49er at Cal State Long Beach), and we hope others will follow. 

Editorial Director Mark Katches edited versions at multiple lengths – the longest of which appears on our site. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a 100-inch version. The Bakersfield Californian, The Eureka Times Standard, the Long Beach Press Telegram and Orange County Register all ran condensed versions in the 50-inch range. The Fresno Bee and the San Diego Union Tribune ran short summaries of the story that teased readers to our Web site.

Last Friday night KGO-TV in San Francisco and KABC-TV in Los Angeles ran their versions. We supplied the story to them more than a week ahead of broadcast, as we did with print partners. KGO interviewed Erica and shared the interviews with its sister station in Los Angeles.

Both stations did their own reporting and shot video. At our request, KGO and KABC kept the story off their Web sites until 10 p.m. Saturday. At that time all of our media partners were free to put their version – with any additional local elements they may have added – on their sites. In return, we supplied links to multimedia elements Mark Luckie had built. They included a map of University of California seismic risks; a map of California State University dangerous buildings; and separate maps of UC Berkeley and UCLA. Mark also built an interactive history of earthquakes greater than 6.0 on the Richter scale.

Voice of San Diego used a version of the story, and added local inserts and rewrote the top of the story to focus on San Diego. Alternet.org used a summary version. Oakland Local also ran a short version of the story online and sent readers to our site for more of our multimedia pieces. KQED and KCBS in San Francisco interviewed Erica. KQED broadcast its story on Friday. KCBS aired their story Sunday. By Monday, we had added four new distribution partners to our list of more than 50 news outlets that have published or broadcast our content.

We are working on distributing our next big story – one that will allow newsrooms to produce more local content in their communities. Much of our distribution strategy is driven by the needs and interests of our publishing partners. Our stories have been well received, reaching millions of readers and listeners. That’s crucial. But the distribution model is evolving every week. And, yes, we are charging most of the media partners for our work. We are a nonprofit, but the more revenue we can generate decreases the potential reliance on others to survive.

We also are part of the movement working to develop new models to sustain investigative reporting, no matter what medium they work in. That is another key way we are hoping to be part of the solution.

California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and is now the largest investigative reporting team operating in the state. Visit the Web site at www.californiawatch.org for in-depth coverage of K-12 schools, higher education, money and politics, health and welfare, public safety and the environment.