WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop is one of sixteen university-based investigative journalism centers, but the only one in the nation’s capital. Founded in 2008 by Charles Lewis and Wendell Cochran, both veteran journalists and professors at the university, the Workshop produces original reporting and mentors the next generation of investigative journalists. This dual mandate creates a unique newsroom; undergraduate and graduate students work alongside veteran professors to create original content that appears in outlets from Politico to PBS. “We’re mixing in the old lions and young cubs,” says Lewis, who also founded the Center for Public Integrity and several other journalism nonprofits.
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Even without an official postgraduate fellowship, four of the thirteen full-time staff members are American University alumni. The rest of the team is a mix of interns, graduate assistants, outside contributors, and advisers. Together they produce multimedia stories, both on a local and national scale. In 2010, the Workshop collaborated with McClatchy Newspapers to produce a story about the nuclear energy lobby’s influence on the Obama administration. Another story, produced in collaboration with MSNBC, explored the safety record of the Massey coal company, revealing that the company had the highest fatality record in the industry, contrary to its claim that “its safety record was ‘average.’ “
Most of the stories produced by the Workshop also have multimedia components like videos, charts, and interactive graphics. “The graphic look of the place is a big deal to us,” Lewis says. “We’re very conscious of the aesthetics of investigative reporting and its accessibility to younger generations.” To further this focus, the Workshop hired Lynne Perri, a former deputy managing editor for graphics and photography at USA Today, as senior editor.
Under her supervision, the Investigative Reporting Workshop has used interactive graphics to create new forms of storytelling. For instance, in its story on the dangers of everyday chemical exposure, the reader can drag her pointer over any item in a picture of an average family home and the item lights up, detailing the dangerous chemicals and potential risks contained within. Lewis believes that as people read less and become more reliant on technology for their news, this type of storytelling will be essential.
Of course, all of this isn’t cheap—the budget for 2010 was almost $2 million. Fortunately, Lewis and the Investigative Reporting Workshop have the support of American University, a number of generous grants, and a contract with WGBH Frontline that brings roughly half a million dollars a year.
And while Lewis is obviously enthusiastic about the Investigative Reporting Workshop’s financial stability and success in producing journalism and training journalists, he’s most excited about the iLab; the arm of the Investigative Reporting Workshop dedicated to studying and developing new models of investigative journalism.
Investigative Reporting Workshop Data
Name: Investigative Reporting Workshop
City: Washington, D.C.
Revenue Sources, other: Ongoing partnership with American public television’s Frontline.
Principal Staff: Charles Lewis, executive editor; Wendell Cochran, senior editor.
Affiliations: American University support; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Challenge Fund for Journalism VI; Nathan Cummings Foundation; Deer Creek Foundation; Otto Haas Charitable Trust #2; Litowitz Foundation; The Park Foundation; Public Welfare Foundation; Rockefeller Family and Associates; Politico; PBS.
CJR on Investigative Reporting Workshop:
10/10/10: Amid Industry Turmoil, “The New Journalism Ecosystem” Thrives - i-Lab’s new database of investigative nonprofits - Lauren Kirchner
09/01/09 Great Expectations - An Investigative News Network is born. Now what? - Charles Lewis
03/01/09: A Social-Network Solution - How investigative reporting got back on its feet - Charles Lewis
06/19/08: Big Bird-Inspired Investigative Incubator - Liz Cox Barrett