WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS — In 2004, former Washington Post reporter Florence Graves founded The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, thereby creating the very first university-based investigative nonprofit. In less than seven years, The Schuster Institute has snatched up more than ten awards and had its work published everywhere from Foreign Policy to Good Housekeeping. It is also one of the few American news organizations whose central focus is social justice and human rights.
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Instead of dividing its reporting into beats, The Schuster Institute’s work is divided into projects: The Political and Social Justice Project, which examines governmental and corporate misdeeds, and which includes a spotlight on human trafficking and modern slavery, dedicating perhaps the only full-time reporter to this complex topic; The Justice Brandeis Innocence Project, which covers wrongful convictions; and the Gender and Justice Project, which reports on injustices, biases, and abuses against women and children.
“The reason we’re focused is because we’re small,” Graves said. “There are so many projects I know of that I’d like to do, and so many projects that need to be done, that it breaks my heart.”
What Graves is able to accomplish with her six-person team and modest budget is impressive. One of its recent stories, for instance, illuminated the fraud and corruption that can occur in international adoption, a subject that once seemed so sacred that it was beyond reproach. The report and the multiple stories the Institute produced exposed the ways in which the growing demand for international adoption created a financial incentive for babies to be bought, defrauded, or even kidnapped from their parents to be sold on the lucrative new market.
“The story actually changed the understanding that people have that international adoption is a purely humanitarian effort,” Graves said.
While The Schuster Institute has become an important partner with the journalism program, and students often contribute to its projects, it acts more like an independent research center than a department of the school. Brandeis provides a home, but the Institute raises all of its own money—a challenge for every journalistic nonprofit.
The Institute is funded almost entirely by gifts and grants, including a major $5 million gift from Elaine and Gerald Schuster, two prominent Democratic activists and philanthropists who made their money from real estate. And while they do receive freelance fees form some of the news organizations to which they distribute, that income is only a fraction of what it costs to do the work. But the point was never to make a profit—just to stay afloat, and do the best investigative journalism possible.
The Schuster Institute Data
Name: The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University
City: Waltham, Mass.
Revenue Sources, other: Freelance fees for work that is published in other outlets.
Principal Staff: Florence Graves, executive editor.
Affiliations: Brandeis University; The Gerald & Elaine Schuster Charitable Trust; Blaustein Foundation; Dorothy Tavris Fund.
CMS: Cascade Server