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April 19 2012

13:17

The newsonomics of risking it all

Alfredo Corchado was used to getting mortal threats.

He received three in Mexico, but now he was in a Laredo bar, north of the border.

You better stop what you’re doing, or you’ll end with a bullet in your head and your body in a vat of acid, he was told. And then we’ll deliver the bones to your family in El Paso.

It was a chilling warning, or at least we’d expect it to put a chill into Corchado. An investigative reporter for the Dallas Morning News (and a former Nieman Fellow), he’s been covering the ravages of drug trafficking for years, much to the concern of his parents living, as the traffickers plainly know, in El Paso. Yet Corchado goes on with his work — as do Adela Navarro Bello of Tijuana’s Zeta news magazine, Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and Ramita Navai of the U.K.’s Channel 4. As Navarro Bello explained of her paper’s coverage of the drug trafficking that has consumed at 50,000 Mexican lives, “If we don’t publish this information, we are part of the problem.” (Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz has captured Zeta’s struggle — including the murder of two of its journalists — with a new movie.)

Each is an investigative reporter who put their lives on the line to reveal stories they think readers must know about. They spoke on the “When the Story Bites Back” panel this weekend, at UC Berkeley, part of the sixth annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium (live blogging of the conference, here, with a #Logan12 Twitter feed).

That panel and the entire spirited weekend, organized and led by esteemed investigative producer Lowell Bergman, tells us a fair amount about the business of journalism. Though it is not — like most of my work — concerned with the dollars and cents of the business, in its very essence, it describes why the current crazy-quilt economics of the business matters. Funding the journalism business isn’t like funding Sears and Kodak (“The newsonomics of the long good-bye”) or other fading institutions. It’s not even about saving a perhaps-vital American industry, like the auto industry.

It’s about keeping a lifeline of funding open so that our best reporters can do their jobs.

I’ll call it the newsonomics of risking it all because that’s what these reporters do. Many of the other Logan participants and attendees, thankfully, do less life-threatening work. Yet those represented at the conference — from ProPublica, the Washington Post, and New York Times to ABC, NBC, and NPR — are among the cream of the crop of investigative work and produce work with real public interest impact.

As we endlessly debate pay models, whether or not to work with Facebook, how to deal with Apple and Amazon and multi-platform journalism, the Logan Symposium is good tonic — certainly for those of us who attended, but really for all of us who know why this business matters to democracy. Whether and how the economics of the new news business work out isn’t an arcane question; it’s central to our collective future. The value of good, deep reporting is truly priceless.

So what about the state of investigative reporting? Look at the glass as half full and half cloudy.

What emerged from the conference, surprising to some, is that national investigative reporting is keeping its head above water. Both NBC and ABC talked about their expansions in the investigative area, while companies like NPR and Bloomberg have put new resources in as well. Units at the Post, L.A. Times, and New York Times may not be growing much, but seem to be sustaining themselves, for now.

“For now” is an important qualifier, and New York Times managing editor Dean Baquet’s opening interview at Logan, in its over-the-top self-assurance, bothered many of the conference participants with whom I talked.

Washington Post investigative editor Jeff Leen suggested that there were 200 investigative reporters paid by news media in the U.S., which I calculate as one for every 1.5 million Americans. That’s not a ratio that’s going to hold many big institutions — government, business, labor — to account. Maybe that’s why as Logan participant and new-media vet Neil Budde tweeted, “How many times will ‘existential’ be used this weekend? I think count is six so far.”

Importantly, it is largely the largest news media — mainly national and global ones — that continue to put money into investigative work; these are the Digital Dozen companies I identified in my Newsonomics book. For them, as NBC senior executive producer David Corvo put it, investigative work is a “differentiator,” important to distinguishing big news brands from one another in the digital age.

What’s going on regionally is more of a patchwork.

Dozens of people like the Logan family are using their wealth to fund investigative enterprises from coast to coast, most with little fanfare. The Knight Foundation, represented at the conference by its senior advisor and grant-giver extraordinaire Eric Newton, has put $20 million into investigative journalism. With the decline in newspaper budgets, and thus in funding of investigative teams at many regional papers, such private funding has been a lifeline, though there’s a profound sense that significantly less in-depth work is being done at former powerhouse regional papers.

This Logan conference lacked the always-odd spontaneity of a Julian Assange appearance, but it offered intriguing emphases:

  • Front and center, though not appearing in person was Rupert Murdoch. After screening “Murdoch’s Scandal,” Bergman’s Frontline documentary that aired March 27, “The Murdoch Effect: News At Any Price,” made for a raucous panel. Milly Dowler attorney Mark Lewis told how the phone hacking scandal had consumed his life and spoke of the “commercial despotism of Murdochracy” in the U.K., given the News Corp. CEO’s multi-party, decades-long influence. Big questions: What next, and if and how this tale plays out in the U.S.
  • “If it’s not on TV, the American public doesn’t know it,” observed Diana Henriques, the New York Times financial investigative reporter. Yes, we may be on the brink of this multi-platform age, where old newspapers like the Times and the Journal do video alongside print, but still — in terms of notice and public action — there’s nothing like the impact of TV documentary.
  • This is a generational challenge. Journalism has always had its challenges, but never has there been more uncertainty about how one generation can pass along its best practices to the next. Through that foundation funding, a couple of dozen younger journalists and students had their way paid into the conference. Surveying the group on the last day, Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch, summed his baby-boomer generation’s role: “I’m a bridge — we’re all bridges to the future.”

Bridging is, in part, what Lowell Bergman’s program does. UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program is a partner in the new Collaboration Central project, along with PBS MediaShift. With new funding, IRP will soon move into a new permanent office. It provides lots of training and fellowships, bringing along new generations to work alongside people like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bergman, whose career has spanned from early Ramparts through CBS, The New York Times, and Frontline, and who was played by Al Pacino in the tobacco industry exposé The Insider.

Bergman paid tribute to his one-time CBS colleague Mike Wallace, underscoring Wallace’s storied tenacity. That tenacity, based on Wallace’s fierce journalistic power (highlighted at CBS, in story and video), is what it took a non-journalist to highlight in Berkeley.

Jules Kroll, who led the invention of the modern intelligence and security industry, gave the trade good, pointed advice. Saying he had heard a lot of journalists talking about how beleaguered they are, he noted, “You have a big impact.” His shared his inside view of the power of a good investigation. Colloquial translation: Stop whining and get on with it.

And that’s always good advice. As ProPublica managing editor Steve Engelberg aptly said, “They were whining in 1989, when times were good.” That’s true. There may be more to whine about these days than in 1989, but the power of great public service work, sometimes when lives are on the line, is one of the things that must propel the trade forward.

Photo of Alfredo Corchado by the U.S. embassy in Paraguay used under a Creative Commons license.

February 10 2012

15:00

This Week in Review: Facebook’s future and the open web, and finding balance on breaking news

Is Facebook a threat to the open web?: There was still a lot of smart commentary on Facebook’s filing for a public stock offering rolling in last late week, so I’ll start with a couple pieces I missed in last week’s review: Both The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo were skeptical of Facebook’s ability to stay so financially successful. Madrigal said it’s going to have to get a lot more than the $4.39 in revenue per user it’s currently getting, and Manjoo wondered about what happens after the social gaming craze that’s been providing so much of Facebook’s revenue passes.

How to supplement those revenue streams? A lot of the answer’s going to come from personal data aggregation, and law professor Lori Andrews wrote in The New York Times about some of the dark sides of that practice, including stereotyping and discrimination. Facebook also needs to move more deeply into mobile, and Wired’s Tim Carmody documented its struggles in that area. On the bright side, Wired’s Steven Levy approved of Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to shareholders and his articulation of The Hacker Way.

Facebook’s filing also spurred an intriguing discussion of the relationship between it, Google, and the open web. As web pioneer John Battelle said best and The Atlantic’s James Fallows summarized aptly, several observers were concerned that Facebook’s rise and Google’s potential decline is a loss for the open web, because Google built its financial success on the success of the open web while Facebook’s success depends on increased sharing inside its own private channels. As Battelle argued, this private orientation threatens the core values that should drive the Internet: decentralization, a commons-based ethos, neutrality, interoperability, and data openness. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM countered that users don’t care so much about openness as usefulness, and that’s what could eventually do Facebook in.

Another Facebook-related discussion sprung up around Evgeny Morozov’s piece for The New York Times lamenting the death of cyberflânerie — the practice of strolling through the streets of the web alone, taking in and reflecting on its sights and sounds. Among other factors, he pinpointed Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” as the culprit, by mandating that all experiences be shared and tailored to our narrow interests. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci pushed back against Morozov’s argument, countering that there’s still plenty of room for sharing-based serendipity because our friends’ interests don’t exactly line up with our own. And journalist Dana Goldstein argued that a lot of what yesterday’s flâneurs did is still echoed in the web today, for better or worse — cyberstalking, trying out new identities, and presenting our ideal selves to the public.

The clampdown on breaking news via Twitter: One of international journalism’s leaders in social media innovation, News Corp.’s Sky News, issued a surprisingly stern crackdown on its journalists’ Twitter practices, banning them from retweeting information from any other journalists without clearing it past the news desk and from tweeting about anything outside their beats.

There were a few people in favor of the new policy — Forbes’ Ewan Spence applauded the ‘better right than first’ approach, and Fleet Street Blues rather headscratchingly asserted that “it makes no sense for them to pay journalists to report through a medium outside its own editorial controls.” But far more people were crying out in opposition.

Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa reiterated that argument that a retweet is simply a quote, rather than an endorsement, and Breaking News’ Cory Bergman said not all the broadcast rules apply to Twitter — it’s okay to be human there. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and POLIS’ Charlie Beckett made the point that Sky should want its reporters to be seen as go-to information sources, period — no matter where the information comes from. As Beckett put it: “We the audience now privilege interactivity and added value over conformity. We trust you because you share, not because you have hierarchical structures.”

The BBC also updated its social media guidelines to urge reporters not to break news on Twitter before they file it to the BBC’s internal systems. BBC social media editor Chris Hamilton quickly clarified that the policy wasn’t as restrictive as it sounded: The BBC’s tech allows its journalists to file simultaneously to Twitter and to its newsroom CMS (an impressive feat in itself), and when that tech isn’t available, they want their journalists to file to the newsroom first — “a difference of a few seconds.”

J-prof Alfred Hermida said the idea that journalists shouldn’t break news on Twitter rests on the flawed assumption that journalists have a monopoly on breaking the news. And on Twitter, fellow media prof C.W. Anderson asserted that the chief problem lies in the idea that breaking news adds significant value to a story. “The debate over “breaking news on Twitter” is a perfect example of mistaking professional values for public / financial / ‘rational’ ones,” he wrote. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, meanwhile, praised the BBC for putting some real thought into how to fit Twitter into the breaking news workflow.

An unclear picture of the Times’ paywall: The New York Times released its fourth-quarter results late last week, and, as usual with their recent announcements, it proved something of a media business Rorschach test. The company reported a loss of $39.7 million for the year, thanks in large part to declines in advertising revenue — though most of that was due to About.com, as revenue in its news division was slightly up for the quarter.

As for the paywall, media analyst Ken Doctor reported 390,000 digital subscribers and estimated the Times’ paywall revenue at $86 million and said the paper has climbed a big mountain in getting more than 70 percent of its print subscribers to sign up for online access. Reuters’ Felix Salmon saw the paywall numbers as “unamiguously good news” and said it shows the paywall hasn’t eaten into ad revenues as much as it was expected to.

Others were a bit less optimistic. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said the Times’ new paywall revenue still isn’t enough to make up for its ad revenue declines, and urged the times to go beyond the paywall in hunting for digital revenue. Media analyst Greg Satell made a similar point, arguing that the paywall is a false hope and calling for the Times build up more “satellite” brands online, like the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital. Henry Blodget of Business Insider had a different solution: Keep cutting costs until the newsroom is down to a size that can be supported by a digital operation.

A nonprofit journalism merger: After a few weeks of speculation, two of the U.S.’ more prominent nonprofit news operations, the Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting, have announced their intent to merge. Both groups are based in California’s Bay Area, and the CIR runs the statewide news org California Watch. The executive director of the new organization would be Phil Bronstein, the CIR board chairman and former San Francisco Chronicle editor.

Opinions on the move were mixed: Oakland Local founder (and former California Watch consultant) Susan Mernit thought it would make a lot of sense, combining the Bay Citizen’s strengths in funding and distribution with California Watch’s strengths in editorial content. Likewise, the Lab’s Ken Doctor saw it as an opportunity to make local nonprofit journalism work at an unprecedented scale.

There are reasons for caution, though. As Jim Romenesko noted, the Bay Citizen has recently gone through several key departures and the unexpected death of its co-founder and main benefactor, Warren Hellman (and even forgot to renew its web domain for a bit). And California Watch pointed out some of the potential conflicts between the two newsrooms — California Watch has a partnership with the Chronicle, whom the Bay Citizen considers a competitor. And the Bay Citizen has its own partnership with The New York Times for its regional edition, something PBS MediaShift’s Ashwin Seshagiri said could now prove as much a hindrance as an advantage.

J-prof Jay Rosen said the two orgs aren’t a good fit because of their differing institutional bases — the CIR is more established and has been on a steady build, while the Bay Citizen’s short history is full of turmoil. And the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Steven Jones argued that Bronstein’s rationale for the merger is misrepresenting Hellman’s wishes.

Reading roundup: Lots of other stuff going on this week, too. Here’s a quick rundown:

— Another week, another few new angles to the already enormous News Corp. phone hacking scandal: The FBI is investigating the company for illegal payments of as much £100,000 to foreign officials such as police officers, a political blogger told British officials that the Sunday Mirror’s top editor personally authorized hacking, and The Times of London admitted it hacked into a police officer’s email to out him as the author of an anonymous blog. How much is this whole mess costing News Corp.? $87 million for the investigation alone last quarter.

— News Corp.’s tablet news publication The Daily got the one-year treatment with an update on its so-so progress in The New York Times. News business analyst Alan Mutter also gave a pretty rough review of the status of tablet news apps as a whole.

— A couple of other news developments of interest to folks in our little niche: The tech news site GigaOM announced it was buying paidContent from the Guardian (PBS MediaShift’s Dorian Benkoil loved the move, and the Knight Foundation announced the first of its new News Challenge competitions, this one oriented around networks.

— A couple of cool studies released this week: One from HP Labs on predicting the spread of news on Twitter, and another from USC on ways in which the Internet is changing us.

— Finally, for those of us among the digitally hyper-connected, The New York Times’ David Carr wrote a poignant piece on the enduring value of in-person connections, and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci offered a thoughtful response.

Original Twitter bird by Matt Hamm used under a Creative Commons license.

14:00

Mediatwits #37: Merger Mania: CIR-Bay Citizen; GigaOM-PaidContent; Twitter Censorship

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Welcome to the 37th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Jillian York, who is filling in for Rafat Ali. It's been a crazy week in media + tech, with important mergers abounding! First up is the Center for Investigative Reporting announcing that it will try to merge with another non-profit, the Bay Citizen, making a powerhouse investigative team to cover local, state and national issues. We get all the key players in that deal as guests on the show: CIR chairman Phil Bronstein, CIR executive director Robert Rosenthal and Bay Citizen interim CEO Brian Kelley.

Next up, there's a merger of key tech sites, both started by Indian-born bloggers who turned them into startup businesses. GigaOM announced it was buying PaidContent from the Guardian for an undisclosed sum. The Guardian will get stock in GigaOM's parent company and get a seat on the board. Special guests OM Malik, founder of GigaOM and Staci Kramer, SVP at ContentNext (and sometimes co-host of Mediatwits), talked about the deal and how the "synergy" in this case didn't mean layoffs. And finally, we discussed the recent move by Twitter to censor some tweets in countries that had more stringent free speech controls. Was Twitter right to implement these rules?

Check it out!

mediatwits37.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

PhilBronstein.jpg

Intro

1:00: Jillian York explains her work at the EFF

2:20: Blogs, online forums, social media only places for free expression in many countries

3:35: Rundown of topics for the podcast

CIR and Bay Citizen

4:30: Special guests Phil Bronstein, Robert Rosenthal, Brian Kelley

8:00: Rosenthal: Want to create engaged audience in Bay Area and globally

11:10: Kelley: Should be excellent synergy between organizations

12:45: Kelley: Striking about timing of executive departures, but not connected

17:20: Bronstein: Sustainability is something we talk about every day

GigaOM buys PaidContent

20:00: Special guests Om Malik and Staci Kramer

22:30: Malik: We can now cover a broader spectrum of topics

22:40: Kramer: In this case, synergy won't mean layoffs, cost-cutting

26:30: Kramer: We're not new media, we're media

28:50: How is Om any different than Michael Arrington as VC?

Twitter censoring tweets

32:30: Micro-blog service will comply with rules in other countries

33:45: Is the #TwitterBlackout a good idea?

35:50: York: The laws in the countries are the problem, not the companies' policies

38:10: York: I don't think these companies should be in China

More Reading

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Plan to Merge. Now What? at MediaShift

Bay Citizen in Merger Talks With Another Nonprofit at Wall Street Journal

The Bay Citizen's short, strange saga in nonprofit news could be coming to an end at SF Business Times

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Announce Intent to Merge at Bay Citizen

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense at MediaShift

Is GigaOM Buying paidContent? at AllThingsD

Why We Are Buying PaidContent at GigaOM

GigaOM And paidContent Join Forces at PaidContent

Twitter Censorship Move Sparks Backlash: Is It Justified? at Wired

Twitter's censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter at Reuters

Twitter Censorship: Outkast's Big Boi Involved In Beyonce Tweet Takedown at Huffington Post

South Korean Indicted Over Twitter Posts From North at NY Times

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about Twitter censoring tweets:


What do you think about Twitter censoring tweets?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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April 10 2011

17:36

Collective, Non-Profit Investigative Journalism Takes Spotlight at Logan

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- I am back at Day 2 at the 5th Annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, a gathering of the top investigative journalists and thinkers at University of California at Berkeley. Day 1 coverage is here, including an appearance by Skype by Julian Assange. Day 2 is shorter, but more focused on new models of journalism, including "collective work" and non-profit journalism.

Collective Work

Carrie Lovano, UC Berkeley: We are in a huge period of transition. The Guardian wants to do stories that will engage readers and make them take action. We wanted to get a technologist in here to talk about these things. Matt McAlister is an early adopter of social media, and will talk about what the Guardian is doing with open technology

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Matt McAlister, head of technology at Guardian, former Yahoo and Industry Standard: It's about the network and the platform. I'm going to talk about business stuff, which is unusual for this event. I have trouble separating content from business and they all have to move toward a common purpose. Everyone understands that an open, collaborative approach is how we all should go.

What we've failed to do is make the open, connected model of journalism work. In that space, there's new thinking like Google Android, Twitter, Facebook and even Wikipedia. The Daily will feel even further behind.

We've been doing live blogs for awhile, and they've been hugely successful for us. The sports guys really worked this out, telling stories minute-by-minute -- we call them "Minute-By-Minutes" not live blogs. They do it in a Twitter-like way but Twitter has limits to it, and our website doesn't have limits. The protests in the Middle East were perfect for this. We realized it had to be in Arabic too, so we took people away from their jobs to translate for us, and we got some translation services. Collaboration was necessary for us to do our job.

If all of this was behind the pay wall, how could we have the same effect?

Slide shows comparison of Rupert Murdoch and The Daily as being closed, with Ev Williams of Twitter being open:

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For the Times UK, they had very British experts on their site, and for the Times, that's OK, because those are the people who are paying for their site.

Q: Your correspondent mentioned that the advantage you had was being open and in Arabic, but how did you verify things?

McAlister: I wish I knew, I didn't have insight into the editorial process for that.

Q: Were you translating Arabic into English too, so both audiences could understand? Not just text, but video too?

McAlister: Yes, we translated both ways, and we did translate Twitter feeds, or we would post on our live-blog a Twitter feed in Arabic and translate it into English. They would do a screen capture of a tweet and put it in the live blog and the translator would translate that in a caption.

Q: How do you manage your Twitter feeds?

McAlister: We use Twitter much much more than Facebook, but our structure is very loose. Our reporters might use Twitter in very imaginative ways. We have guidelines for using Twitter but we don't have a commitment to using it one way or the other. The downside is that people don't always do the same thing, but it lets people invent new ways of using them.

During the G-20 protests in London, a newsstand worker was pushed down to the ground by the police and had a heart attack. The police report seemed unsatisfactory, and Paul Lewis our reporter put out a call asking if anyone was there. Someone had taken a video of it, and found out we were looking for it via Twitter, and sent it to us in a secure way. It's a fantastic story about how you can pull in sources with social media.

Another case, there was a man who died on a plane and he asked for photos or images, and he got a plane list of passengers and started tweeting them, and found people who were on the plane. He started a network of people, and someone was killed on the plane, and the police covered it up.

More Examples at Guardian

McAlister: The MP expense reports from UK Parliament - There are different ways to tell that story. The Telegraph did their analysis of this big pile of data. We took PDFs and put them on the website, we're talking hundreds of thousands of documents. We made a game of it, asking people to find things and let us know. There were buttons to say something was interesting or not. It happened again for a second year.

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Some lessons from it: The problem with the first one was our progress bar showing all the documents people had looked at. People wondered what happened to all the other documents, plus it was just too much, overwhelming. So we broke down the data, so people could find expenses relevant to your own MP.

Your user name was ranked, among all the other readers. You could compare and contrast. Another case was when the Dept. of Treasury spending was put online. We had our engineers work on it, and asked other software/journalist types to come to our office to work it out. We used open source tools to build something dead simple to find things. We spent 3 or 4 days with eight developers total to build this database. Anyone could put it into Excel, and it took about 5 minutes before people found things. It was fascinating.

One person asked why we spend 100,000 pounds on flag waving? We immediately put that out and asked the question -- we got an unsatisfying answer, but at least we got an answer.

We publish things on Google Docs without licensing it at all. We set up a group on Flickr and sent out a tweet about it and have all these people doing storytelling around our data projects.

Another big initiative is our Open Platform at the Guardian. There are a million or so articles that you can post in full using this toolset. It's been great for building mobile apps, but the intent was for partners to use our stuff. One example is that we got this Wordpress plug-in, a Guardian plug-in that looks like a news feed right in your Wordpress blog. And you see an ad in the article as it's syndicated.

We also created a timeline of social media reactions during a World Cup game, so you could relive the game in a different way.

Q: What about the trust at the Guardian?

McAlister: It's hugely helpful for letting us experiment, and it's there in perpetuity. Collaboration with other partners who have these tools is step one. There are hack days out there. If you have a developer, you might get more out of them from hack days than having them finish whatever they're working on it.

The State of Non-Profit Investigative Journalism

Moderator: Charles Lewis, Investigative Reporting Workshop

Panel: Robert Rosenthal, Raney Aronson-Rath, Calvin Sims, Richard Tofel, Mc Nelly Torres, Gary Bostwick, Margaret Drain.

Charles Lewis: About a third of newspaper newsrooms have disappeared and the number of PR people doubled. This is not good. In a social revolution, many journalists started non-profit outfits, by rank and file reporters. Many were frustrated with the owners of their news organizations. This group, who never ran anything, became entrepreneurs, which is astonishing.

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We looked at 60 groups, some new some not so new. OpenSecrets, TRACK, sites that were never considered investigative reporting sites, but should be. We created a database with all these sites. Of these sites, 40 started in the past few years. And there are many outside the U.S. and we'll be looking at them as well. Total operating budget was $85 million, and half of them won awards.

One thing we must bear in mind is that non-profit journalism is not new. The Associated Press did work more than a century ago, and NPR has been around since 1970 and it's the only news organization to double its audience in the past 10 years. We all know about the Guardian, which has done more innovative work than any other newspaper in the world. The non-profits have more time to do more serious work, and that's why ProPublica has won awards recently, and the Center for Public Integrity won IRE awards, too.

My Investigative Reporting Workshop is the biggest one at a university. We did Bank Tracker, putting all the data online with MSNBC, and there have been millions of page views, a lot of traffic. Using technology, multimedia, and Kat Aaron is the project editor for a 40-year look at what's happened with employment and workers in America, with a special website. It's a multi-million-dollar project.

It's getting blurry out there. For-profits are asking for memberships and donations, and ProPublica has ads. The non-profit space is changing basically every hour.

Q: Is there hope for PBS?

Margaret Drain of WGBH: We don't have a trust, but should have a trust. When I first came to PBS, I came to WGBH, which is the largest producer of content for PBS. I have quite a large portfolio of projects and shows. Early on, I found out we had to do fundraising, to raise several million dollars, because PBS didn't give us enough money. We had to produce content and do fundraising.

We get between 20% to 100% funding from PBS for our shows. It's generally about 40% for each show.

I was not very optimistic about the future of PBS, and then I got an email from someone at Capitol Hill and heard we weren't going to get cut for fiscal 2011, but there's still 2012. The problem that PBS faces is the blurring between commercial and non-commercial broadcasting. I think we need to protect the non-commercial part of broadcasting. And it's all in the perception. We do take ads on our websites because monetization is an issue, but we don't want commercialization to foul our nest.

Why have PBS? Everyone's got out of investigative journalism. It's very difficult to get my head around this. We need help from big donors, but where we're going to forming trusts based around genres. We've started the Frontline Investigative Journalism Trust. The other is a documentary film fund and another is for science and "Nova." And we'd like to recruit donors who have interest.

We also have the digital side to fund, and curation to do. We are dependent on the kindness of Congress but can't depend on that.

Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting: We are charging for our content. We put out a series this week, On Shaky Ground, and I estimate the audience we will reach in California will be 8 million to 10 million people. Distribution with ethnic media, broadcast, radio, newspapers and even 100+ Patch.com websites, as well as PBS Newshour and KQED. It's a tremendous audience and the feedback we've had from the audience is remarkable.

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That cost us, as a 19-month investigation that cost $750,000, and our revenue is about $40,000 to $50,000. Some of our funders have great rapport with us others don't talk much to us. We have advertising on our site but our goal isn't to be a destination website. It's incredibly complicated to measure distribution. We put out a children's coloring book. It wasn't my idea but it's been very successful. We're not charging for it. We are at the center of innovation and collaboration but I can't sit here and say it's sustainable.

Sharon Tiller came back to do video for us at CIR. There's also a mobile app to find fault lines in California.

Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline: We don't see corporate funding as being a big part of our funding. We are in a huge period of reinvention, just went to a full-year of programming. We got a big grant from the Logans, so we want to thank them. We're a legacy series, we have a look and feel and do investigative reporting. We're increasingly looking at going to more multimedia and doing more on the iPad -- and not just to put video there. What we want to do is have a more vibrant offering in the digital space.

We hired Andrew Golis from Yahoo and before that TPM. We want to add more materials on our website, more addendum material. We want to do things in that space that are as strong editorially as on broadcast. It's a big transition for us. We're focused less on our website and more on our tablet and digital spaces. So people can hold the iPad in their hands and have more of a multimedia experience.

So what does collaboration look like right now? It's getting hard-hitting investigative work in all our reports. So we have to rely on more people, because we only have a handful of producers. So we work with ProPublica and CIR and others. It's an exciting era now for us. We hired a new managing editor who comes from a big-time newspaper and believes in narrative journalism.

Calvin Sims, Ford Foundation: We have historically been big funders of investigative reporting, and we'll continue in that space. We are a social justice organization, and things that affect minorities and poor all over the world. We don't fund advocacy journalism because we think the public that supports strong journalism will take action. How do we decide what to fund?

nonprofitpanel.jpg

We just announced a $50 million initiative for documentary funds, and we'll continue to fund the sector of public media and journalism, but we want to think more like a venture capital fund. We're looking for big influence and impact. More importantly we want to know if your content advances the public discussion on a topic, are you reaching an influential audience and how do you quantify that impact?

We want to bet on people who are going to still be around.

Richard Tofel, ProPublica: We're making enormous progress in sustainability. Ads and sponsorships are part of it, money from partners is part of it. We've had some interesting experiences with Kindle Singles, but philanthropy is how these non-profits are sustained. Smaller donors can be a very important part too. But do people see the need? That's why I'm optimistic. There's been a market failure in producing high value journalism that's crucial to democratic governments. They need to be funded as public good.

I'm very optimistic and think we've made enormous progress in 4 years since we launched at ProPulica.

Mc Nelly Torres, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting: We are doing OK. We decided to focus on Florida for fundraising. There are a lot of groups, but we don't want to have to reinvent the wheel. There are so many groups competing for funds from national groups like the Ford Foundation. We don't have a person dedicated to raise money. I'm raising money, and I also write stories. We just won our first national award. [applause]

torreslogan.jpg

Our website is growing, we are getting 60% more traffic on our site each month. All the mainstream newspapers are all my clients, you have to think that way. You need to have many sources of revenue, and think about ways to experiment with it. But the sky is the limit. The passion here is investigative journalism an we are providing something that has virtually disappeared from mainstream outlets. I'd rather spend my time in Florida and raise money there than waste my time and energy elsewhere where I'm competing with ProPublicas and others.

Gary Bostwick, Bostwick & Jassy LLP, part of legal support network for non-profit outlets: I was here a few years ago talking about this, it's amazing to see Chuck Lewis detail all the people doing it now. I am thrilled to hear everything from people on the panel, including CIR and everyone else. You're not going to be different in who will attack you as if you were a mainstream news organization. We are trained as lawyers to look out for issues. We want you to get your content on the air, but we won't always say yes, and we don't always say no. We usually say, "yes, but..." You are not in a risk-free environment.

I give constant education to clients who don't have a strong journalism background.

So why not get a group policy to cover CIR, ProPublica and all these groups for libel lawsuits? I just started thinking about that. I planted a small land mine out in the courtyard, but the chances of you stepping on it are small. I am trying to avoid the small risk of a cataclysmic disaster. We all do it because we believe in you and we want this to succeed.

**Q: Is there an issue with undercutting the price of doing commercial journalism?

Rosenthal: I think it's something we think about, many people in commercial journalism are now working in non-profit journalism. But we're talking about investigative journalism, and there's so much less of that now, and I think we have to keep it going. I wish it wasn't that way, but I've seen downsizing in commercial journalism. Our sustainability is whether we are having an effect on society, that's what fuels us.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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October 28 2010

14:00

The Newsonomics of the third leg

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Most publishing stood proudly and stably on two feet, for decades.

You got readers to help pay for the product. And you got advertisers to pay as well. While American newspapers dependably got 20 percent of their revenue from readers, European ones have gotten more than 30 percent and Japanese ones more than 50 percent. In the consumer magazine, trade, and B2B worlds, the splits vary considerably, but the same two legs makes the businesses work.

Even public radio, seemingly a different animal, has followed a similar model. Substitute “members” for subscribers and “underwriters” for advertisers, and the same two-legged model is apparent.

In our digital news world, though, the news business has been riding, clumsily, a unicycle for more than a decade. Revenue — other than the Wall Street Journal’s and the Financial Times’ — has been almost wholly based on advertising. So, that’s why we’re seeing the big paid content push. “Reader digital revenue in 2011!” is the cry and the quest, as the News Corp. pay walls have gone up, Journalism Online hatches its Press+ eggs, The New York Times prepares to turn on its meter, and Politico launches its paid e-newsletters. They all have the same goal in mind: digital reader revenue.

The simple goal: a back-to-the-future return to a two-legged business model. (See Boston.com’s New Strategies: Switch and Retention). We’ll see how strong that second leg is as 2011 unfolds.

While two legs are good, and better than one, consider that three would be better still. Three provide a stronger stool, and a more diversified business. We’re beginning to see a number of third legs emerging. So it’s look at the emerging newsonomics of the third leg.

The clearest to see is foundation funding. Foundations, led by Knight, have been pouring money into online startups. The startups, of course, are selling advertising and/or sponsorship, and some are selling memberships, as well. In addition to those same two legs, foundation funding provides a third leg — at least for awhile. Our 2010 notion is that foundation funding isn’t a lasting revenue source, but a jumpstart; that may change as we move toward 2015. We may well see foundation funding turn into endowments for local journalism, so it may become a dependable third leg.

Make no mistake: It’s not just the new guys who benefit from foundation “third leg” funding. Take California Watch, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s statewide investigative operation. Barely a year old, its dozen-plus staffers have written stories that have appeared throughout the traditional press, from major dailies to commercial broadcasters to the ethnic press. California Watch work — at this point wholly funded by foundations, though CIR, too, is looking back to the traditional legs for future funding — then is used by the old press both to improve quality and cut their own costs. So, indirectly, the old press derives benefit from this third leg of foundation funding.

Take a couple of examples from the cable industry. We’ve seen the Cablevision model, as the New York-based company bought Newsday, took the website “paid” and bundled it with its cable subscriptions. The notion, here: Cablevision is driving “exclusive” value for its cable (and Triple Play) offers by offering Newsday online content, content not otherwise available without paying separately (or subscribing to print Newsday). Newsday.com sells advertising, and online access, but the real value being tested is what its content does to spur retention and new sales in Cablevision’s big business: cable.

Similarly, Comcast — a pipes company fitfully becoming a content company as well as it tries to complete its NBCU deal — is making a big investment in digital sports. Headed by former digital newspaper exec Eric Grilly, ex of Philly.com and Media News, it’s a big play. Well-deployed in five cities — Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, the Bay Area and Washington D.C. — and headed for nine more, all in which it runs regional sports cable networks. Comcast Digital Sports now employs more than 80 people and is producing more than 50 hours of programming a week in each market.

While Comcast is ramping up advertising sales and may test paid reader products as well, it’s that same third leg — the cable revenue — that is the biggest reason behind the push. “We want to provide value to the core business,” Grilly told me last week.

In the cable cases, news production can be justified because it feeds a bigger revenue beast. Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg’s large news staffs do the same, feeding bigger financial services businesses.

Lastly, let’s consider the new Associated Press-lead push for an industry-wide “rights consortium.” While its daily newspapers try to stand taller on the two legs of digital ad and reader revenue, the business that could emerge from this new company is about syndication. In that sense, it could be a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) push, aimed at a third growing revenue source for all, as news content un-tethered from publishers’ own branded sites is used — and monetized — across mobile platforms, mixed and matched in all kinds of ways.

Maybe, overall, it’s a regeneration process for the news business, as the old legs have grown weaker, the environment is forcing evolutionary experimentation. Over the next several years, we’ll see which third legs survive and prosper, and which others become dead ends.

Photo by This Particular Greg used under a Creative Commons license.

October 20 2010

13:00

Meet “The Hub,” a virtual clubhouse for community nonprofit news sites

At the Block by Block community news conference last month, an irony emerged: Local site publishers, who spend their days cultivating community, hadn’t enjoyed much community amongst themselves. Again and again during the event — a convergence that co-host Jay Rosen aptly described as “entrepreneur atomization overcome” — participants expressed their desire for a centralized spot for conversation, information…and commiseration. As one publisher put it during the conference’s introduction session: “I just don’t want to feel like I’m alone in this.”

Enter The Hub, a new site that wants to be just what its name suggests: a centralized space — in this case, one for community news nonprofits. The site wants to be a go-to spot — the go-to spot, actually — for the people involved in nonprofit news, from journalists to publishers, from academics to funders. Click over to the site now, and you’ll find, among other things: a Getting Started section with legal and tax primers, editorial guidelines, and samples of marketing collateral; a Beyond the Basics section with info on business modeling and engagement strategies; an Academics and Research section with reports and teaching tips; a searchable database of participating news sites; a collection of contextual materials, like Q&As with, and videos of, nonprofit experts; and — maybe the most valuable resource for a nonprofit startup — a list of organizations that fund nonprofit journalism.

The Hub is overseen by Voice of San Diego, which has emerged of late as a kind of mega-org, leading collaboration efforts with fellow nonprofits. The idea for the site, says Scott Lewis, VOSD’s CEO, came in part from the many, many occasions in which VOSD execs and editors found themselves fielding requests for consulting and advice from people hoping to start their own nonprofit news sites. (Little surprise: The logistics to be worked out when it comes to news startup-ing — editorial, legal, and, of course, financial — are dizzying.) “We were getting so many people asking so many questions and wanting so many documents,” Lewis told me, “that we just thought, ‘Okay, let’s put it up. Let’s put it all up.’”

Though the idea was conceived by journalists, the site was funded by a foundation — the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation — and built by academics: San Diego State University assistant professor Amy Schmitz Weiss, with the help of grad students Jessica Plautz and Yueh-hui Chiang. They designed the site (work began in May) and then, over a busy summer, seeded it with relevant data. The hope, though, is that news organizations will supplement the existing infrastructure with their own contributions: information about their operating models, resources they’ve found helpful in building out those models, etc. Ultimately, Lewis says, he’d love to see each outlet with its own profile page on the network. (“Like a Facebook for nonprofit news sites,” he says.) From there, The Hub could also function as means of connecting community sites, both fledgling and already existing, not only to each other, Block by Block-style…but also to the organizations that might want to fund them. Voila!

The Hub doesn’t want to be simply a repository of documents, though, or even a connector of institutions; it also wants to be a centralized space for conversations. This past spring, the Knight Foundation convened a group of nonprofit journalism practitioners in Austin to share best practices, consider opportunities for collaboration, and generally discuss strategies for sustaining themselves into the future. (Check out videos of that meeting here and here and here and here.) Many new insights sprang from that meeting, Lewis notes — one of them being the meta-insight that was the need for a spot to incubate those insights in the first place. “We needed a natural place to put ideas once they come out,” he puts it — and “a natural place to promote them and make sure they spread.”

Lewis recently wrote a much-circulated blog post on the benefits of revenue promiscuity in the nonprofit world; it’s now hosted on The Hub. Ideally, he says, other people will contribute their own posts — original topics, or riffs on writings from other contributors — that will live on the site and fashion it into a kind of virtual brain trust. (Think Snarkmarket, the excellent group blog run by Twitter’s Robin Sloan, NPR’s Matt Thompson, and Wired’s Tim Carmody.) If the current state of the site is any indication, though, Voice of San Diego will continue to play a leadership role in cultivating the conversation, with the outfit’s models and strategies continuing to be a guiding resource for emerging startups. It’s a one-for-all approach that serves an all-for-one goal in nonprofit journalism. “If we and everyone else are seen as a viable solution that the community can turn to,” Lewis says, “then that helps us all.”

March 11 2010

17:00

The Newsonomics of new news syndication

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

It’s tough to get the printer’s ink out of news people’s veins. For many, journalism = printing, and in printing, each copy costs extra. It’s an analog, manufacturing mindset, and one to finally bid goodbye.

Of course, we all know how freely we can fling stories about on the web, but second copy value — and cost — has an evolving business model implication, as the news industry looks for new pillars of support. That business model implication is syndication. Syndication in the old world meant the syndicates — among them, King Features, Universal Press Syndicate and now-put-up-for-sale United Media —and it meant wires, like AP, Reuters, and AFP, all of whom built big businesses on the increasing margin in the second, third and fourth copies of editorial content created and redistributed. Other syndicators (think Lexis-Nexis and Factiva) have built big businesses, selling multiple copies of stories to corporations and governments for their workforces and to schools of every level and size.

Now, we’re beginning to see next-generation syndication embraced by digital news startups, and that’s good news, a good supplement to advertising and sponsorship revenues, to membership charges and conferences.

Take GlobalPost for example. GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni embraced syndication as a revenue source from the site’s early planning and rollout. “I knew I needed multiple revenue streams to support our business, and syndication of our original content — in a world of rapidly diminishing international reporting — seemed like a no-brainer to me especially given our pricing flexibility.”

GlobalPost now gets about 12 percent of its overall revenue from syndication. It shares its correspondents’ posts with about 30 newspaper, broadcast and other news sites in the U.S. and worldwide. It counts among its clients CBS News, New York Daily News, the Times of India, Australian Associated Press, Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Newark Star Ledger. Sites pay a monthly flat rate and can use their fill of GlobalPost stories. In addition to web use, print publications can and do use them in print as well.

GlobalPost isn’t alone. Politico added a syndication network, the Politico Media Network, to its bag of tricks early on. For Politico, it’s a multi-pocket pool play, leveraging a related advertising network around the syndication and its own partnership with Reuters.

California Watch, the new initiative of the Center for Investigative Reporting, is figuring out the contours of its syndication business. Early in its life, it has found daily newspapers, broadcasters, start-ups and the ethnic press to be eager customers of its work, with some big stories reaching audiences of two million or more. Early on, CIR has priced its work fairly inexpensively, in the low hundreds of dollars. As it is getting traction, it is thinking of syndication as a key business model and will test pricing models over the next year

The Chicago News Cooperative, the supplier of local news coverage for the Chicago edition of The New York Times, operates on a similar principle, able to sell stories to multiple customers.

The principle here is devilishly simple — but has not been well enough applied. It’s been described from the inception of the Internet: the second copy is free (or really close to free). It’s also part of a basic Newsonomics law, Law #9: Apply the 10% Rule. Let technology do the value multiplication, not expensive-to-hire-and-feed humans.

Every syndication dollar earned is another dollar that doesn’t have to be wrung out of highly competitive advertising markets. Importantly, the syndication dollars derive from what journalism organizations do best: create high-quality content. The big notion: create better-than-good-enough content, the kind of stuff that is beginning to flood the web. It’s another way to affirm worth: the more companies that want to use your content, the clearer the value proposition in the digital world.

So what’s old is new again. In addition, syndication offers the potential of selling beyond traditional media that may offer significant new revenues. For local news companies, established for more than a hundred years or a few months, it’s a destination-plus model. It’s not about readers coming to your site; it’s about getting people to read your content —and get paid for it. It’s also — witness the Politico model — a way to enable an ad network, related to syndicated content. In fact, I can envision a range of locally oriented sites — from the Yelps, Open Tables and Zillows to government sites to niche mom’s and family sites and beyond — that may find use for various kinds of content. The first step for would-be syndicators: inventory and categorize what you have, and talk to would-be customers about what they might want to use.

Some have said that in the digital world, news companies need to think of themselves both as creators and aggregators, doing what they do best and linking to the rest. Let’s amend that: creators, aggregators, and syndicators, doing what they do best, licensing with zest and linking to the rest.

December 18 2009

23:42

4 Minute Roundup: Google Phone and Netbook; Kindle Under Attack

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at Google's various moves into consumer electronics. Rumors abound about a Google phone, code-named Nexus One, that could be out as early as the first week of January. And Google also might be coming out with its own branded netbook with Chrome OS by Christmas 2010. Meanwhile, the Kindle is under attack from a possible Apple Tablet, News Corp. making a deal with Sony, and the consortium of magazine publishers making a "Hulu for magazines." Plus, Robert "Rosey" Rosenthal explains how he's trying to get revenues for the new California Watch project.

Check it out:

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

What Google Wants With Its Own Phone -- Control at AdAge

Google phone with T-Mobile contract in Jan at Reuters

Get Ready For The Google Branded Chrome OS Netbook at TechCrunch

Apple, Google Rivalry Heats Up at WSJ

Google plans own Chrome OS netbook, what will Apple and Microsoft do? at 9to5 Mac

Kindle Rivals Cozying Up to Magazine, Newspaper Publishers at AdAge

Sony Recruits News Corp. to Give Its Reader Line a Boost at MediaMemo

Apple Tablet Production To Ramp In February, Analyst Says; Will It Kill The Kindle? at Barron's

WSJ, MarketWatch and NY Post Subscriptions Coming To Sony E-Reader at PaidContent

Publishers Join Forces to Save Themselves with Hulu for Magazines at Gizmodo

Now's the Time, Finally as Publishers Announce Their Hulu for Magazines. Next Up -- Building It at MediaMemo

California Watch Says 'Yes' to Open, Networked Investigative Reports at PBS MediaShift

Here's a graphical view of last week's MediaShift survey results. The question was: "What killed E&P magazine?"

killed eandp grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about your new year's wish.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 17 2009

22:13

California Watch Says 'Yes' to Open, Networked Investigative Reports

Some investigative journalists have been resistant to change in their profession, but hard times at newspapers have brought about a new sense of experimentation and collaboration. That is evident at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and its new California Watch project, which attracted major foundation funding from the James Irvine Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and Knight Foundation.

When I visited their cramped offices in Berkeley, Calif., recently (they are moving to a larger space soon), CIR's executive director Robert "Rosey" Rosenthal and California Watch's editorial director Mark Katches were the ultimate "yes" men. Nearly every experiment I brought up to them, from crowdfunding to holding town hall meetings, was on the table and in the realm of possibility for them. "We're open to anything," Katches said at one point. "You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.' "

When the California Watch site relaunches in early January, it will showcase some of those new approaches. Reporters will be blogging and tweeting openly about their ongoing investigations, and the audience will be included in a network of eyes and ears on the ground. While the latter is still a work in progress, Katches is open to having the audience help crowdsource work on documents, or give tips to reporters as they work on investigations.

California Watch soft-launched a few months ago, and its first story received wide distribution, making the front pages of dozens of California newspapers. While Rosenthal has had success in fundraising and hiring what he says is the largest investigative reporting team in the state, his attempt to keep the site non-partisan will be a challenge. Having reporters blog and tweet without giving away their biases will be difficult. CIR itself shows liberal leanings via online distribution partnerships with Huffington Post, Mother Jones and Salon, without any similar conservative sites in the mix. When I brought up this point to Rosenthal after our interview, this was his response via email:

In addition to hundreds of stories published in mainstream news outlets over 30 years, we have worked with outlets you mention. Going forward we hope to broaden our distribution more widely, working with with as many outlets as we can to reach people of all political persuasions and points of view. If you are going to make a judgment on the nature of the work by where it was published I think it makes sense to read, view or listen to it, and see if the stories were unfair or biased.

The following is an edited transcript with video clips from my recent visit to the CIR/California Watch headquarters.

Q&A

Robert Rosenthal explains how the idea for California Watch grew out of talks with the Irvine Foundation:

How do you choose your partners for distribution? Are you selective about that?

Robert Rosenthal: We are selective, but we also really want to reach an audience. We're not looking for exclusivity. Exclusivity lasts about three seconds now on the Internet. We want to reach an audience, and part of that model is working. We had a piece where Mark Shapiro, whose expertise is in the cap-and-trade carbon issue, his work is in Mother Jones, it will be in Harper's, and we've worked with FRONTLINE/World on a series called Carbon Watch. There's a piece on Marketplace with NPR, on NewsHour with PBS. He's blogging and other people want to work with us. Our idea of having one core reporter working on multiple stories really works.

One of the stories we did was on 25 front pages throughout California on the same day, which is unheard of, plus radio, plus TV. Again, there's different partners. If we went to a big national partner and they said they wanted exclusivity, we would consider that. But what we're finding is that they don't care. If 10 papers have it in California, or if it's on "California Report" on KQED, they see themselves as having a different audience, and they will take that story and give it a much more contextual, national flavor. They're interested in the information we're bringing them.

The last story we did was translated into Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish, and [we] distributed it to ethnic media in California, which I don't think anyone has done. Sandy Close at New American Media helped us out, and La Opinion translated it for us in Spanish.

Mark Katches: For the first stories we've done, there's no set model for how we'll distribute stories. A lot of other non-profits that are sprouting up are mostly doing one-offs with one news organization or a collaboration for an exclusive story. ProPublica will do that, but they also give their content away to anyone who will take it online. They are partnering with one news organization at a time.

What we did with our first story was that it ran on the front page of 25 newspapers with a combined circulation of 1.8 million. There isn't a newspaper in California that comes close to that circulation on its own. We want to get the story out to as many eyeballs as possible. Our mission is to tell stories that will make an impact and change lives. The broader the audience you have, the better you can do it.

For that first story, we created 15 versions of the story. It was a story about Homeland Security grant spending in California -- misspending in a lot of ways and lack of oversight. G.W. Schulz, a CIR reporter, did a fabulous job reporting it. To sell that to very different news organizations, we couldn't hand them over a 100-inch story and expect them all to run it. So we had the story edited at three different lengths. Beyond the custom lengths, we also created a version with custom content for the Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News and others.

What are you doing for online promotion?

Katches: When we launch our new website [in January], all our stories will be running jointly with the news organizations that partner with us. We're also thinking we'll use our blog as a marketing vehicle. We're not up there yet, but when we start rocking and rolling in January, we'll let people know stories are coming on our blog, and keep stories alive on our blog and on our websites.

Rosenthal: And on Facebook and on Twitter.

Katches: Yes, we're going to use lots of social networking. Everyone here has a Twitter account. If you go to our site, you can see what our reporters are up to, we're using Publish2 to show what people are reading. We're also -- without giving [away] the store -- showing what our coverage priorities are, what we're working on. Our reporters' latest tweets are there on our site. We have a Facebook page, a Twitter page and will use the whole gamut of social media.

Would you consider partnering with Yahoo News? The same way you're talking about getting distribution in print, isn't there a parallel online?

Rosenthal: Yes. We're hoping to reach out to them and do just that. We want our site to be vital, but we know it's not going to become a news site, with that kind of activity. We want to showcase our work and create traffic, but our model is not to have our site as the only place you can find it. If we do this right, our stories will be on multiple sites -- not just on California-focused sites but, for the right stories, national sites and global ones.

Rosenthal explains what the funders' expectations are and how California Watch has to create a ripple effect to be successful:

What do you think would be the ideal split in the business model between bringing in money with ads and charging news organizations for content and grants from foundations?

Rosenthal: Right now we're about 90 percent or 95 percent reliant on foundations. We haven't been as aggressive about raising $50 checks and more, but we're going to build that into the model. I think if we can get to 30 percent or 40 percent revenues outside of foundations, it will be very successful in the next 12 to 18 months. My own feeling is that we're not creating a strategy where the end user pays, but we're seeing that newspapers are willing to pay. Some are talking to us about long-term syndication models. There will be TV stations that might be willing to pay a consistent fee for access to what we're doing.

There's a lot of interest. The niche we're in, high quality investigative, unique storytelling... I think there's an opportunity to get more funding. Not to totally fund us, but the goal is to bring in revenues and hire more journalists to do more of this work.

What do you think of the crowdfunding model and what Spot.us is doing?

Rosenthal: We'd like to work with Spot.us and we'd like to try that. I think there are issues around the quality, and we've talked to David Cohn. If we can put out a pitch and help manage a story and get it placed, it may add value to that. I think there are issues around how you pick a story. If you say you want to make sure so-and-so is never re-elected, that may raise some issues.

The challenge long-term is establishing this as a credible model at a time when information and news is becoming more partisan. That's a risk. If we're seen as being partisan or coming from the right or left, it would hurt our credibility in the long term.

So would you stay away from syndicating in a place like Huffington Post?

Rosenthal: No. If they were our only outlet [it would be a problem], but we're talking about multiple outlets and you're not looking to one outlet or the other. You're arguing that you want to reach eyeballs from different points of view. If an organization said it doesn't want a story because it doesn't fit their point of view, then I don't think we'd ever deal with them again. I think the Internet opens the field up to a lot of opportunities to reach audiences.

What about your own reporters? You are showing off their tweets and inside thinking and blogging. They are people with biases and political leanings. How will you deal with that?

Katches: A lot of that will have to managed pretty strictly early on. We're expecting people to be responsible. We don't have a social media policy but we might need one. We have professional, outstanding journalists, and they know how to handle themselves, whether they're blogging or tweeting or conducting an interview. But it's something we need to keep an eye on.

One of my worries is that reporters are venturing out into one area they're not used to, revealing what they're working on. Investigative journalists have tended to be paranoid by nature, they don't even let people in their own newsroom know what they're working on. We're not going to give away the store, but we do want to pique people's interest.

Rosenthal: We have clearly addressed that, and we do have guidelines, but it does potentially create issues. Everyone has to be aware of that. We're already perceived, because we're physically located in Berkeley as being '"Berkeley [liberals]." We are sensitive to that, and our goal is that our body of work will address those issues if they exist.

Katches talks about the balance of doing long-term and short-term investigations, and how the staff will spend 10 percent of its time blogging and on social media:

The Guardian used crowdsourcing with its Investigative Your MP's Expenses in the UK. Are you considering doing things like that?

Katches: Absolutely. We're looking at those kinds of things, and have had discussions about those. Not only are we building our investigative team, we're right now working with three different USC class projects with more than 40 student journalists collaborating with us. We're looking at mobilizing small armies to do the types of work you're talking about. We can't do it all ourselves, but if we do it collaboratively, we can get a lot of things done.

Rosenthal: Mark is right that what we're doing with USC Annenberg is great, but you have to build an infrastructure to manage it and do it. What we can help others with is to figure out how to do this. It's not easy. You have to know how to manage it and have the right people, and willing partners. We're looking to raise more money for the California Watch and CIR, and I want someone whose job is basically a collaboration editor, because it's really full time. You have to have some journalistic skills, but it's complicated. When I was at the Philadelphia Inquirer you had to have a collaboration editor for inside, for the warring departments [laughs].

Katches: One of the things that's been wild is that a reporter will file the story, we'll edit the story, Rosey [Rosenthal] will review the story, and we'll get the story done to the point where it meets our standards. Then we put on our salesmen's hat and we're calling news organizations around the state and we're actually selling the stories to them. In some ways it's the same jobs we've always been doing, producing good journalism, but [we're] going to another level of marketing it and distributing it... it's an exciting new world.

Rosenthal explains how journalists need business partners for help now, and how new models will have to have alignment between funders and journalists:

Are you planning on having something to help people take action on your reports?

Katches: We are. We're planning to have a feature called "React & Act" and tie it to every one of our stories. We may not do it right at launch, but pretty soon after. We hope it's a platform, a jumping off point for people who want to get involved. It goes beyond commenting on stories. If we do stories about a particular agency, then what runs along with it is a sidebar with the photos, the email addresses, the phone numbers of stakeholders who can make a difference.

Do you feel you might even bring your audience together with you in some way, like a town hall meeting?

Katches: Sure, we're open to anything. You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.'

Rosenthal: You still have to make sure you have an infrastructure so that you can manage it. But strategically, we'd like to be a place where there is discussion. If there's a town square where we can help take a big state-wide issue and show a community how it impacts them, or show them data on a ZIP code level, we want to get that information to a community. We might even facilitate a public meeting.

We're talking about websites, but one of the key things that might develop is that in some communities it won't be people having laptops. It's going to be handheld devices or cell phones, or whatever that becomes. So creating content for that is just as important. And we talked about ethnic media and how they reach an audience, and that's a completely different issue. If we're going to be effective, we have to do all those things. If we're going to be effective, we don't have to only build the journalism -- [we have to build] the infrastructure to do all these things.

Katches gives a preview of the coming redesigned site for California Watch:

With your redesign, I saw part of it asks people to "join our network." What is that exactly?

Katches: The idea is that it will start with the ability to comment and engage on our site. We would love to get it to a point where it becomes like a crowdsourcing community of people who can converse about investigative reporting, share their own knowledge of things they are learning in their community, and maybe even direct coverage. It's early in the development, but it will start with the basic ability to comment and engage on the content we put up.

So it's required for people to register in order to comment?

Katches: Yes, that's one of the things we want to do to make sure we have responsible commenting.

****

What do you think about the work of CIR and California Watch? Can their non-profit model be replicated in other states? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Videography and photo by Charlotte Buchen.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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