The Workshop’s Investigative Laboratory (iLab)
The latest from iLab: On July 1, 2009, representatives of 20 nonprofit news organizations issued the Pocantico Declaration , creating an Investigative News Network. Below is a group photo of the participants, including Charles Lewis, a member of the conference steering committee. See his June 29 report on the eve of the historic Pocantico conference, in Westchester County, New York. And, for Lewis' observations immediately after the conference read the Nieman Watchdog .
The Investigative Reporting Workshop is a major research center devoted to the study of investigative journalism. We are incubating new economic models for doing and delivering investigative reporting, both in the United States and around the world. And we are also developing collaborations with other journalism organizations to explore issues vital to investigative reporting.
Our goal is very simple: to enlarge the public space for this important work, holding those in power accountable in our society.
The financial condition of journalism in the U.S. has been deteriorating for decades, but probably never looked bleaker than in 2008, when, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, throughout the nation 21,000 newspaper industry jobs ceased to exist. Against such a calamitous backdrop, I-teams have been dismantled, and numerous overseas and domestic bureau staffs continued to contract or disappear altogether.
The most extensive, substantive public service journalism in America the past century has been initiated, supported and published by the nation’s newspapers. And so the specific impact of this interminable newsroom carnage on the capacity to actually do investigative reporting – one of the most time-consuming (i.e. expensive), difficult and unpredictable genres of journalism – has been and continues to be dire. Fundamentally, the relationship of classified and display advertising revenue to newspapers has been drastically disrupted by the new online technologies and the simultaneous, declining consumer interest in serious news. And a new for-profit model, able to employ hundreds of full-time journalists in a single online news organization, does not yet presently exist in this transformative period.
Amidst all of this turmoil, new economic models for funding investigative journalism – nonprofit, for profit and hybrid – have been emerging in recent years. For example, Josh Marshall’s political blog, Talking Points Memo , winner of the 2007 George Polk Award for its legal reporting, is a small for-profit company funded by Google Ad revenue and reader donations. Global Post is a new for-profit company begun in 2009, attempting to cover the world with roughly 70 reporters paid a modest monthly fee and an ownership share, the venture supported by advertising, syndication and paid memberships. Separately, grant-funded, nonprofit investigative reporting centers have existed in the world since the late 1970s, and now operate from California to Tajikistan, from the Philippines to Romania. The three largest, national-focused U.S. centers currently are the Center for Investigative Reporting , which began in 1977, the Center for Public Integrity , which started in 1989, and ProPublica , which began in 2008. But now new state, regional, national and international-focused investigative reporting centers have begun in just the past two or three years in the U.S., some of them at universities, partnering with local NPR stations and other major media outlets.
Indeed, in recent years, as the commercial milieu for investigative reporting has become more difficult in the United States and elsewhere, a new, nonprofit investigative journalism ecosystem has been quietly emerging. As many newspapers and television station newsrooms have stopped producing investigative journalism, many reporters and editors have responded entrepreneurially, by forming their own, online, muckraking news organizations. And now, throughout the nation, there are signs of a new, informal, de facto network of nonprofit, investigative news organizations.
Charles Lewis, the founding executive editor of the Workshop who also founded the award-winning Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has written extensively about the development of new nonprofit, for profit and hybrid models in investigative journalism. Here is a sampling of some of his recent papers and articles .
We are living in a dynamic, uncertain but also exciting time, unprecedented in history. Will this nonprofit investigative journalism modus operandi, with all of its different permutations, continue to grow, and to what extent is it the solution, or merely a solution, to the current economic crisis? What are the challenges and limitations of this approach? From the innovative, new for-profit and non-profit models, is there a financially viable way to more fully employ the immensely talented investigative reporters who now have nowhere to work? And what are the most innovative, publicly resonant ways to present investigative news in the 21st century, to the newest generations of educated young citizens in this immensely complex, constantly changing world?