The New England Center is not its own 501(c)3, and while most of its funds are raised independently, the center does have monetary tie-ins with the school. BU pays $40,000 total for the salaries of Bergantino and co-creator Maggie Mulvihill, as well as providing some money for travel, postage and printing, office supplies, and technical support. Bergantino says that being run out of a private school, rather than a public one, allows them a bit more breathing room when it comes to using school funds, and their editorial independence has never been challenged. Their reporting is focused on government accountability, and Bergantino says this would be much more complicated to do at a state school, “If it was UMass Amherst, and we’re doing stories about the state house, that would present some interesting challenges,” he says. “In fact, I’ve recommended to people over the years to not set up centers at public universities. It’s too much potential conflict.”

Lorie Hearn, founder and executive director of Investigative Newsource, housed at San Diego State, says that being at a state university requires that her monetary relationship with the school be extremely limited. “I teach for free in exchange for the space. I don’t pay money, and they don’t pay me,” says Hearn. “All the other ancillary things that go along with operating the business, Internet, phone, parking, we pay for.” All of the funding is raised outside of the university. The relationship is set up to be as neutral as possible.

“Some of the investigative centers are at private universities, and they may feel like they have more latitude to negotiate things, as opposed to a public university where you have to contemplate the use of tax payer funds,” says Hearn. While Investigative Newsource has not done an investigation into the university, she says if something came to the center’s attention, they would be comfortable doing the story. “I would hope the university would understand that that is our mission,” says Hearn. “That is our public service job.”

Editor’s note: Readers of this piece about journalism organizations housed within colleges and universities may note that the Columbia Journalism Review is such an organization, and wonder what our situation is. CJR is part of Columbia University, a 501c3 nonprofit. It is published under the auspices of Columbia’s Graduate School Of Journalism. CJR has its own independent budget, but we are housed and receive services such as computer support and more from the J-school, along with intellectual and spiritual ties. Are there tensions between the interests of the journalism school and CJR’s mission? Occasionally, yes. CJR’s mission of journalism criticism requires it to critique friends and funders of the school, not to mention CJR’s own friends and funders. There is no written firewall guaranteeing editorial independence, and whether there should be is a good discussion. But we believe in editorial independence and in practice, in ten years as editor here, I have never seen any serious effort to interfere with any story. -Mike Hoyt

To read more about these university journalism centers, click on the following links:
Health Policy Solutions

CU-CitizenAccess

Common Language Project

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Delaware First Media News

New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Investigative Newsource

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Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.