BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — In less than two years and with an annual budget of less than $500,000, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has taken on the state division of banks and the Salvation Army. They’ve brought down a high-level public official, and had their work appear in publications across the state and in every medium imaginable. And they’ve done it all with only two full-time staff writers.
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Veteran reporters Joe Bergantino, a former ABC correspondent, and Maggie Mulvihill, a former reporter for The Boston Herald , originally conceived of The New England Center for Investigative Reporting as a free-standing organization—but when Boston University welcomed them onto campus, it was hard to say no.
“It made a lot of sense to us to be based with a place with a strong journalism program which gives us students to work with,” Bergantino says.
It also helps that BU supplies them with computers, office space, Lexis-Nexis database access, a graduate student, and part of their salaries. In return, students at Boston University get the opportunity to learn hands-on investigative reporting by working with professional journalists in the newsroom. Some of these “reporter trainees,” as Bergantino and Mulvhill call them, have even had their bylines in The Boston Globe.
The university isn’t the New England Center for Investigative Reporting’s only ally in the media world. When they launched in 2009, the group had three different partners: The Boston Globe, the WBUR radio station, and the New England Cable News network. WBUR and New England Cable News both helped produce stories, while the Globe helped distribute them.
In their second year running the site, Bergantino and Mulvihill launched the Public Eye, a monthly investigative reporting subscription service. Although there are only nine current subscribers—a news radio station and eight daily newspapers—Bergantino says he hopes to expand the subscription base so that Public Eye becomes a major source of revenue and the organization becomes less reliant on grant money.
For now, the entire program is underwritten by a grant from the Oklahoma-based Ethics in Journalism Foundation.
But Bergantino and Mulvihill don’t want to rely solely on acquiring grants and selling content.
“I think you need to think of centers like ours as a small startup business,” Bergantino says. “Small startup businesses establish a number of revenue streams to make the business a go. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
One of these possible revenue streams is journalism training, which they offer for everyone from bloggers to citizen journalists. During the summer, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting also runs an investigative workshop for high school students that Bergantino said netted the organization $50,000.
Bergantino says he’s also close to launching a separate division of the Center that will perform research for corporate clients, including law firms and socially responsible investment funds. All of this, of course, works toward one goal: keeping the New England Center for Investigative Reporting sustainable so it can keep producing high-quality investigative journalism.
New England Center for Investigative Reporting Data
Name: New England Center for Investigative Reporting
Principal Staff: Joe Bergantino, director and senior investigative reporter; Maggie Mulvihill, associate director and senior investigative producer.
Affiliations: Boston University support; Deer Creek Foundation; The Harbus Foundation; pro bono support from Prince Lobel Glovsky & Tye LLP.
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