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.
That fledging group (see “Great Expectations,” CJR, September/October 2009) was forming under the direction of Buzenberg, Lewis, Rosenthal, and Brant Houston, the long-time executive director of ire, who now holds the Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Houston, who also served as chairman of the group’s steering committee, hosted weekly conference calls among the twenty or so member nonprofit journalism groups as they tried to find a pilot project they could truly collaborate on—a sort of “proof-of-concept” story to show donors that investigative journalists really can work together and deliver a story of major impact across the country.
Lombardi’s story made sense for the pilot. Many of the new nonprofit centers were housed at universities, so the reporting could resonate and influence those most directly affected by the issue. She had developed several good data sets that could be broken out for individual universities, including one of schools that participated in a federal grant program to reduce campus assaults. Lombardi said she didn’t feel territorial about her work. “I thought, ‘if only we had a giant team, we could create a huge ripple effect. . . . A lot could be uncovered with on-the-ground reporting.’”
Lombardi and her editors got five regional nonprofit news organizations as well as National Public Radio to sign onto the project, a feat made easier when the Center for Public Integrity secured a $40,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation to fund the collaboration. Her first wave of stories ran in December and the second set was planned for February. As she was in final edits on her first piece, she began working closely with reporters in Boston, Denver, Houston, Madison, Wisconsin, and Seattle as they scoured their campuses for information about what was happening in their regions. “I’m not going to lie. It was very hard to do,” Lombardi said.