AP to Distribute Nonprofit Journalism- Brief Rumpus Interviews with the Participants


Sy Hersh would be proud: the Associated Press announced last Saturday that it will distribute watchdog and investigative journalism from four leading nonprofit organizations to its 1,500 member newspapers. The deal will widen distribution of the groups’ work while addressing a need created by newspapers’ shrinking resources.

Starting July 1, the six-month pilot project will deliver content from The Center for Investigative Reporting, The Center for Public Integrity, The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, and ProPublica to editors at nearly every U.S. daily via the AP’s Web-based delivery system.

One goal of the AP’s pilot project is to showcase different models of investigative journalism. I spoke with representatives from ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Workshop to find out what distinguishes them from the other nonprofits.

The Rumpus: How will your organization contribute to the AP’s pilot program? What distinguishes your organization from the other three participating nonprofits in focus, mission, or methodology?

Richard Tofel, General Manager, ProPublica: Well, first, our focus is national, that is on stories of interest to a national audience, even though many of them necessarily have a locus in a particular community.

More broadly, we define our mission as being to publish stories with what we call “moral force”, that is, stories about people who have abused power or betrayed the public trust. And our goal is impact, that is lasting change.

Not sure these are differentiators, but they are what guides us.

A couple other points that may mark some differences of approach:

• Almost all of our work comes from our full-time news staff;
• That staff now numbers 30, the largest investigative reporting team in the country;
• We’ve been fortunate enough to have the funding to be able to pay people market salaries, and thus to recruit experienced reporters and editors from top publications, as well as a number of very talented younger rising stars;
• We publish each of our major, “deep dive” stories through major publishers, on an exclusive basis, thus gaining the stories greater readership and more potential impact. In our first year of publishing, we worked with 34 such partners.

Wendell Cochran, Senior Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop: We’re the youngest and smallest of the four organizations. We’re university-based, and we have a very entrepreneurial spirit. The thing that distinguishes us most is that we’re trying to do research and incubate nonprofit and for-profit journalism. We have four journalists working with us full-time, and we use freelance writers for most of our projects.

We use a hybrid form of distribution. We partner with other organizations on projects, and we’ve published projects on our own. We’ve even published work from one of our grad students. Since we’re just in our first year, everything is an experiment. We expect to reach farther, involving students not only in the journalism program, but in the film program as well.

Our idea for the workshop is based on an artist’s studio where people can come in, discuss ideas and techniques, share each other’s work, and use our tools to create interesting projects. Hopefully our collaboration with the AP will help replace some of other newspapers’ lost capacity for publishing investigative journalism.

About The Center for Investigative Reporting
Founded in 1977, the Center for Investigative Reporting, based in Berkeley, CA, is the nation’s oldest nonprofit investigative news organization, producing award-winning multimedia reporting that has been distributed through a wide range of broadcast and print outlets. CIR is now devising new strategies to do solutions-oriented reporting on a local, regional and state level, with a major focus on California.

About The Center for Public Integrity
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan and independent digital news organization specializing in original investigative journalism and research on significant public policy issues. Since 1990, the Washington, D.C.-based Center has released more than 475 investigative reports and 17 books to provide greater transparency and accountability of government and other institutions. It has received the prestigious George Polk Award and more than 32 other national journalism awards and 18 finalist nominations from national organizations, including PEN USA, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Society of Professional Journalists, Society of Environmental Journalists, and National Press Foundation.

Steven Tagle is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles, CA. He produces short-form documentaries for Current TV, and his work has appeared in Leland Quarterly, Word Choice, and Rainy Day. He is finishing his first novel. More from this author →