NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT — In 2010, award-winning journalist Lisa Chedekel published a story detailing how more than a dozen Connecticut doctors who had been sanctioned in other states for illegal or substandard practices were able to practice freely in Connecticut. She found that Connecticut rarely took action against doctors, even when their licenses had been censured in other states.
When published in December 2010, Chedekel’s story drew wide attention. The Hartford Courant, the state’s largest newspaper, published an editorial on the issue. The Connecticut legislature responded by strengthening the law, giving the Department of Public Health authority to take disciplinary action against doctors who had been found negligent or incompetent in other states.
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Chedekel’s story wasn’t published in a mainstream news outlet, but instead on the online investigative website that she co-founded called Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT). Launched in December 2010, C-HIT produces stories tackling health care and safety issues, with a special emphasis on war veterans. In the last fourteen months, C-HIT has published stories on the increase of suicides by military service members, the high use of restraints on students with disabilities in public schools, and the problem of foreign refugees receiving inadequate mental health care. The site publishes around two to three investigative stories per month, according to Lynne DeLucia, editor and co-founder of C-HIT, and one to two stories per month on veterans issues. Additionally, the site’s I-Team Ticker tracks news about regulation of the health care industry.
DeLucia, a Pulitzer-winning former assistant managing editor at the Courant and C-HIT’s sole full-time employee, says the site is focused on “hitting stories that no one else is writing about. Our big goal is trying to disseminate our content and get as many eyes on the stories as possible.”
Since December 2010, C-HIT has forged partnerships with mainstream news outlets across the state, including WNPR, the New London Day, and north-central Connecticut’s Journal Inquirer. The site also partners with news websites such as the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, CT News Junkie, and CT Watchdog. The New Haven Independent acts as the site’s web host, but the two organizations are separate for editorial and financial purposes. “We don’t look at ourselves as just a destination site for information, we look at ourselves as a mini-AP that’s here to produce really good content [for other outlets]” says DeLucia.
C-HIT’s media partners pay a one-year subscription fee to use the site’s content, the cost of which varies depending on the size of the media company. Thus far, these contracts do not constitute a significant revenue stream for C-HIT, but will become a critical component of the site’s business model in the future. C-HIT has nonprofit status under the auspices of the Online Journalism Project, the 501(c)3 that also published the New Haven Independent. Initially, C-HIT received seed money from Connecticut’s Universal Health Care Foundation in the amount of $25,000, and a grant from the Ethics & Excellence Journalism Foundation based in Oklahoma for $100,000, which was recently renewed for a second year.
DeLucia says they hope to eventually taper off from dependence on grants in favor of paid media partnerships. The site is aggressively pursuing funds from private donors in 2012, and will also earn revenue from its second High School Journalism Workshop. Held in partnership with the journalism departments of Quinnipiac University and University of Connecticut, the one-week summer bootcamp teaches twenty-five high school students per session the tools of investigative journalism. The cost is $900 for each participant and includes instruction on interviewing and journalism ethics. “We see those as ways to train the next generation of watchdog journalists,” says DeLucia.
Thus far, C-HIT content comes mainly from Chedekel, who was a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner and a 2007 George Polk Award winner. But the site also works with a large pool of freelancers. For long-form investigative pieces, freelancers are paid a competitive rate of $1 per word. DeLucia and Chedekel assign stories, and also accept pitches from contributors.
“It’s a great kind of collaborative brainstorming exchange,” DeLucia says of the operation. “A part of our success is we’re making a great impact but we’re a lean machine.”
Connecticut Health Investigative Team Data
Name: Connecticut Health Investigative Team
City: New Haven
Principal Staff: Lynne DeLucia, editor and co-founder; Lisa Chedekel, senior writer and co-founder.
Affiliations: Editorial: The New London Day, TheJournal Inquirer, The Record-Journal, New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Torrington Register-Citizen, CT News Junkie, CT Watchdog, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, New Haven Independent, WNPR.
Business: Online Journalism Project, Universal Health Care Foundation, Investigative News Network, Your Public Media, Quinnipiac University Journalism Department, University of Connecticut Journalism Department.