With the near-daily drip of bleak news about the journalism world (today’s edition: Gannett reportedly plans to cut at least 1,000 jobs), we could all use some reason for optimism. And, fortunately, some has arrived: A consortium of non-profit news publishers including the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, MinnPost and many others has announced plans to launch an Investigative News Network that will foster “editorial, administrative and financial collaboration” between member publications.

The mission of the INN (it’s a working title) is outlined in the Pocantico Declaration, which was adopted today at the conclusion of a three-day conference north of New York City. It is

to aid and abet, in every conceivable way, individually and collectively, the work and public reach of its member news organizations, including, to the fullest extent possible, their administrative, editorial and financial wellbeing. And, more broadly, to foster the highest quality investigative journalism, and to hold those in power accountable, at the local, national and international levels.

Practically speaking, that means support with administrative tasks and libel protection that can pose challenges for the smaller, specialized news organizations that have come to play a large role in the investigative reporting landscape. But it also means greater distribution and a higher profile for muckraking stories. Plans are in the works for a Web site that will showcase investigative work from around the country, and stories will also be distributed through various social media avenues.

“This is a way to maximize this information and distribute it in the furthest possible way,” said Charles Lewis, founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University and a member of the INN steering committee. “We all started joking that we were using the word historic too much, but this is historic. It’s unprecedented.”

The network’s next task? Fundraising, of course. “It’s going to take several months to get this up and running,” Lewis said; there’s no specific launch date, but a reasonable target is early or mid-2010. It’s an effort we’ll be watching closely in the months to come.

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Greg Marx is an adjunct lecturer at The Medill School and a facilitator with The OpEd Project. She served as an editorial board member, columnist, library director, and No. 2 in the features department of the Chicago Sun-Times.