Most new nonprofits have to work hard for that kind of reach. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, launched in January 2009 by Andy Hall, a veteran investigative reporter who had just left his job at the Wisconsin State Journal, generally e-mails editors and news directors around the state offering a story for publication, usually targeted to the upcoming Sunday editions. Those who are interested can download embargoed versions of the story, at full and condensed lengths. Local editors can add their own staff reporting to the stories and are not required to run the story on a specific day. Indeed, Hall said sometimes a newspaper or television station will run a story a week or two after it’s been released for general use and has been posted to the center’s Web site, Wisconsinwatch.org. Many other centers—including California Watch—attempt to fix a specific publication date, to give the story the biggest possible bang.
California Watch generally charges for its stories, although the amount slides from around $75 to $500, Rosenthal said, based on the size of the news outlet. The fee can be reduced if the publisher agrees to barter services, like taking photos or designing graphics that can be used by others that are publishing the story. La Opinión, for example, often gets its California Watch stories for free because it agrees to translate the pieces into Spanish for free; California Watch then redistributes the stories to other Spanish-language media.
Having worked for hours to tweak and insert and trim different versions of the same story for various partner papers, Katches vows that “these are introductory rates.” Rosenthal said he knows some editors who are willing to pay more. “I’m comfortable seeing what the market will bear, based on the quality of our stories,” he said.
(Click on image above for a larger version.)
Rosenthal said he initially hoped to build a destination Web site for California Watch’s journalism, but that’s no longer the main focus. This is a new media/old media collaboration: the first seven stories California Watch delivered this calendar year were published in newspapers with a combined circulation of 6.8 million, Rosenthal said, a huge reach that no start-up Web site could muster. He hasn’t had time to calculate the additional number of listeners and viewers reached by the radio and television stations that have run those stories.
That’s not to say that growing Californiawatch.org is not a high priority. Each reporter is expected to help keep the site current by posting a blog item daily. Deadline is 10 p.m. A copy editing intern works until midnight on the files, which are posted before 1 a.m. so that an influential state politics blog, Rough & Tumble by Jack Kavanagh, can decide whether to link to any of them in his morning’s suggested reads.
Katches also wants reporters to be as open as possible about their work. Each story they write is displayed on the site in a frame that links to their photo, bio, a general description of what they’re working on next, what they’re reading, and their latest tweets.
All this transparency was new to Lance Williams, a veteran investigative reporter who helped break many exclusive stories on the BALCO steroids-in-baseball scandal, along with reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada, when they were at the San Francisco Chronicle. Williams is now California Watch’s senior reporter. He admits being a bit baffled about Twitter at first, but then he realized that penning short bursts wasn’t that different from his days on a newspaper rewrite desk. “You don’t have to always do newspaper-style narratives,” Williams said, to communicate what’s important or interesting news: “A good tweet is like a good hed.”
Kristen Lombardi, a staff writer for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, was the linchpin to what is perhaps the most ambitious multi-organization reporting project to date. She had worked for a year on a series about sexual assaults on college campuses that often go unpunished. Last fall, as the Center planned to release the first round of stories detailing the results of her investigation, her editors suggested she collaborate on a second round of stories with an emerging organization, the Investigative News Network.