Rick Edmonds, media-business analyst at the Poynter Institute, figures the newspaper industry has cut $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2005, or roughly 30 percent. It is unclear how much of that hit investigative journalism—“We’ve tried to slice it a couple of ways, but it’s a very hard number to get,” said Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (ire). But, he said, there’s no question that investigative and enterprise reporting, especially in state capitals, has been slashed.
In any event, philanthropies have begun opening their wallets. According to a running tally kept by the J-Lab at American University, about $143 million of foundation money has flowed into news media enterprises between 2005 and April 2010. More than half of that has gone to twelve investigation-oriented news organizations, according to a tally by CJR.
That is not enough to replace what has been lost, of course. “National funders are not going to fund all of us,” said Maggie Mulvihill, co-founder of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University. “They want to see us collaborate. We have to help each other.”
The imperative to collaborate has given rise to the new buzzword for this era: partnership. These investigative nonprofits all talk about their distribution “partners,” (i.e. newspapers, television news programs, Web sites, and radio broadcasters who run their work); their reporting “partners,” (i.e., traditional media reporters who team with the nonprofits, or university students who work with a nonprofit’s professional journalists, or groups of nonprofits who combine their efforts to nail a story); their user “partners,” (i.e., those who respond to crowd-sourcing queries or donate a few bucks via Kachingle or agree to pay for a membership or join a Facebook fan page or even those who simply post a comment on a story). Some even call their donors their “partners,” though others are wary of that because they fear their work being seen as supporting a donor’s cause.
The Center for Public Integrity has long partnered with commercial and nonprofit media on investigations, but its collaborations today “are at a new level than what we had seen,” said Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director. “It’s new. It’s different. It’s exciting. It’s a lot of work.”
Mark Katches was very busy. On his screen was a 147-inch story that he was cutting to a six-inch box that The Fresno Bee had agreed to run, though the Bee would refer readers to the California Watch Web site to see a full multimedia package. The stories were based on a four-month investigation by reporter Erica Perez about public university buildings in California that are judged to be dangerous to occupy in an earthquake. Next up was re-editing the story to a fifty-inch version to send over for a look-see to The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, the Torrance Daily Breeze, and others. Nearly all the papers wanted a few graphs up high about the campus buildings in their circulation areas, and Katches knew from previous collaborations that a few editors would have good suggestions for tweaking the lede or tightening the nut graph. It’s not edit-by-committee, he said; it’s more like “a collective brain.”
Each nonprofit in this new ecosystem operates a little differently when it comes to distributing its stories, although all are hoping for the biggest possible impact. ProPublica offers its work for free, and often partners a reporter from its staff with one at a major news outlet. The two co-publish the exclusive work and then others are free to re-publish, with credit. “We’ve published about 225 stories with nearly 50 different partners over the last 21 months,” Steiger wrote in an e-mail. “Many of these have been bilateral partnerships, but some have been much more complex.” He cited ProPublica’s stories on police violence in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as one example. “We’ve worked first with The Nation magazine, and more recently (and simultaneously) with The Times-Picayune and Frontline.”