BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — In less than two years, California Watch has become a force in American journalism, distributing its content to over eighty different publications and operating with the biggest investigative team in the state. Launched in 2009 as a facet of the Center for Investigative Reporting, California Watch dedicates itself to “high-impact reporting” on health, education, ecology, politics, and public safety.
[Profile updated December 18, 2012]
- Read more about California Watch
In one of its projects, reporters Joanna Lin and Mandy Hofmockel investigated the retailer chain Rainbow Apparel, who continued to sell lead-tainted jewelry even after repeated warnings from the attorney general’s office. The package included multiple articles, a video, and a specialized Google map that pinpointed the retailers throughout the state selling the jewelry. California Watch even offered free lead-testing to its concerned readers, an apt symbol of its dedication to the public interest.
In 2011, the California Watch team published a series called “On Shaky Ground,” which detailed the poor construction standards for California public schools, many of which lack earthquake safety certification. In another story, contributing writer Will Evans wrote a compelling first-person investigative story about how his mother’s nanny was cheated by a mortgage scam.
Yet editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Mark Katches (formerly California Watch’s executive editor) adamantly rejects the notion that they’re an activist publication. Evans’s piece, Katches said, was simply a manifestation of California Watch’s freedom to explore different types of storytelling.
“We’re investigative reporters who operate like investigative reporters at publications like The Orange County Register,” Katches said.
The investigative organization has caught the attention of newspapers throughout the state that are eager to use its content. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s executive director, Robert Rosenthal, their stories will often run in multiple publications in a single day, reaching over 25 million readers.
“If you think about this, we’re on every one of those newspaper’s websites, ” Rosenthal said. “The [stories] are pushed through on Twitter and Facebook, and on radio and TV across California.”
And although they’re still very much dependent on grant money, California Watch generates significant revenue through its content, which it sells to numerous publications.
“We’re taking our stories and reselling either the same or slightly different versions up and down the state,” Katches said. “We have a very flexible model of collaboration.”
This flexibility allows California Watch to work with news organizations of different sizes and mediums and, ultimately, create more revenue. In 2011, California Watch expanded its reach by offering news organizations memberships in the California Watch Media Network. 11 of the state’s most reputable print publications signed on, as well as five TV networks.
“We will continue to sell stories as one-offs; we will continue to sell stories a la carte, but we’re also providing a menu of services to news partners and we’ve gotten a tremendous response so far,” Katches said.
California Watch has not been afraid of experimenting with new content delivery formulas. It often runs Twitter chats with its readers so they can ask the reporters questions about the stories. Additionally, it hosts “Open Newsroom” events at various coffee shops around California and invites readers to come and ask questions or suggest new investigations. In 2011, California Watch expanded its news content and staff to include an in-house video production team; It won the Society of Professional Journalists award for Journalism Innovation that same year.
In 2012, California Watch joined forces with The Bay Citizen as part of the merger between that organization and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
California Watch Data
Name: California Watch
Principal Staff: Mark Katches, editorial director
Affiliations: Center for Investigative Reporting, The Bay Citizen, James Irvine Foundation, The California Endowment
CJR on California Watch:
04/15/11: California Watch is Watching - Investigation reveals lax oversight of seismic standards in schools - Curtis Brainard
09/01/10: The New Investigators - Nonprofits are breaking new ground. Can they sustain themselves? - Jill Drew
11/05/10: How the West Was Lost - California Watch rummages through Whitman’s purse - Joel Meares
01/27/10: California Watch Launches “Open Newsroom” Project - The investigative outlet gets mobile. And caffeinated. - Megan Garber