Building alliances for investigative journalism

Sandy Rowe, former editor of The Oregonian, makes the case for collaboration in local investigative reporting in a new discussion paper for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. She writes:

Growing evidence suggests that collaborations and partnerships between new and established news organizations, universities and foundations may be the overlooked key for investigative journalism to thrive at the local and state levels. These partnerships, variously and often loosely organized, can share responsibility for content creation, generate wider distribution of stories and spread the substantial cost of accountability journalism.

Rowe calls for collaboration among traditional and emerging digital, print and broadcast news organizations, as well as higher education and interested citizens. If she had her own 30 years as an editor to do over again, she says, she would expand her vision beyond her own newsroom.

“It did not occur to me that I should assume a responsibility broader than my own newsroom for the engagement of the community around questions of public policy integrity and public policy leadership.”

In addition to laying out specific ideas for action, she offers lessons on motivations, organization, funding, and culture and values. And, she adds this overall vision:

In a do-over I would work to change established newsroom culture by building alliances for in- depth and investigative reporting with universities, rivals, citizens and, potentially, philanthropists. I would make this work a major part of my own or a managing editor’s job description. I would focus the work much more on the outcomes of our journalism, which is after all what citizens care about. We would measure success through a clear-eyed assessment of the stories done, the distribution they received, the range of tools and platforms used for that, the engagement of citizens with the work and the impact or actions generated by the work. If we did not create value along those criteria, then we would know we were not fulfilling our mission.

The Seattle area has seen some promising examples of collaborative investigative reporting. Examples include:

The Times and KUOW teaming up to report on the injuries and disabilities caused combat soldiers carrying to much weight in their packs.

InvestigateWest and KING 5 TV teaming up on an in-depth look at air safety in the skies over Washington state.

Rowe’s paper makes a powerful argument for building extensively on these foundations.

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2 Responses to Building alliances for investigative journalism

  1. This article, along with all the talk about amateur internet sleuths investigating the Anthony Weiner “anatomy” photo got me thinking about loosely formed investigative networks as well as formal ones like the two listed above.

    I wonder, how can we harness incentives to get a crowd to use their time and skills online to dig deeper into something more substantial? Maybe InvestigateWest will be able to find a way to post story leads, or unconfirmed pieces of a story, and get others to assist in scoping them out.

    Remember when Seattle Police successfully recovered a stolen car through twitter?

    The University of Washington police who have a gmail account specifically to recover stolen bikes……not quite as public as twitter, but similar idea.

    • Mike Fancher says:

      Terrific observation. Rowe’s paper includes a section about the public as partners. Here is one example of what is starting to happen:

      “Michael Skoler is vice president for interactive media for Public Radio International. With his partners, Skoler is developing a 50-state corruption index that will be completely open-sourced,
      fueled by social media and intended to give journalists and citizens a powerful tool to track and shut down potential corruption paths in their state’s public processes.”

      Rowe adds, “Giving citizens tools may involve releasing an important database and asking for help in scouring it or teaching data-mining skills or demonstrating how to set up a basic wiki to gather and consolidate information from individuals interested in a particular issue. According to Bell (Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism), part of the education function of news outlets requires including a wider network in the
      reporting, which in turn builds trust, stimulates civic engagement and the public convening required for action.”

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