Students at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley also do reporting in several San Francisco area communities for the school’s neighborhood news Web sites, and the graduate school has plans for its 120 students to work with professional journalists, beginning next year, at the local news Web site it is starting with San Francisco’s KQED public radio and television. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in Phoenix operates the Cronkite News Service, which provides student reporting to about Arizona to thirty client newspapers and television stations around the state. And the Capital News Service of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism operates news bureaus in Washington and Maryland’s capital in Annapolis. Northwestern University students staff a similar Medill School of Journalism news service in Washington.
Universities also are becoming homes for independent nonprofit investigative reporting projects started by former newspaper and television journalists. Some are run by journalists on their faculties, while others, such as The Watchdog Institute at San Diego State University, are independent nonprofits that use university facilities and work with faculty and students. For example, Andy Hall, a former Wisconsin State Journal investigative reporter, started the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism as an independent, foundation-supported nonprofit on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Its reporting by professional journalists, interns, and students appears in Wisconsin newspapers, public radio and television stations, and their Web sites.
In Boston, Walter Robinson, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning Globe investigative reporter, and students in his investigative reporting seminars at Northeastern have produced eleven front-page pieces for the Globe since 2007. And a group of former local television and newspaper journalists on the faculty at Boston University recently launched the New England Center for Investigative Journalism in its College of Communications, staffed by the journalist faculty members and their students, in collaboration with the Globe, New England Cable News, and public radio station WBUR.
How can fledgling news reporting organizations keep going?
Money is obviously a major challenge for nonprofit news organizations, many of which are struggling to stay afloat. Raising money from foundations and other donors and sponsors consumes a disproportionate amount of their time and energy. Advertising and payments from media partners for some stories account for only a fraction of the support needed by most news reporting nonprofits.
Nearly twenty nonprofit news organizations—ranging from the relatively large and well-established Center for Investigative Reporting and Center for Public Integrity to relatively small startups like Voice of San Diego and MinnPost—met last summer to form an Investigative News Network to collaborate on fundraising, legal matters, back-office functions, Web site development, and reporting projects. Joe Bergantino, a former Boston television investigative reporter who is director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University, said such collaboration is vital “if we’re all going to be back next year.”
A number of national foundations—led by Knight and including Carnegie, Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Open Society Institute, Pew, and Rockefeller, among others—have made grants to a variety of nonprofit reporting ventures in recent years. A study by the Knight-funded J-Lab at American University in Washington estimated that, altogether, national and local foundations provided $128 million to news nonprofits from 2005 into 2009.
Nearly half of that money, however, has been given by major donors to a handful of relatively large national investigative reporting nonprofits, including ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting at Berkeley, and the Center for Public Integrity in Washington. Some foundations fund only national reporting on subjects of particular interest to their donors or managers—such as health, religion, or government accountability. Grants for local news reporting are much smaller and usually not high priorities for foundations, many of which do not make any grants for journalism.
American society must take some collective responsibility for supporting independent news reporting in this new environment.