“A lot of groups that have been successful in these regional investigative centers are about our size now. It’s a good working size,” she said. “We have contributing writers and freelancers, but I think that’s really where you have to start—with a small, core group and have other people on contract, and then you grow from there. That’s more realistic.”
Brant Houston, who sits on Investigate West’s board and is the Knight Chair of Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, places Investigate West in the “middle of pack” of the Investigative News Network, which he helped create and where he now sits on the Steering Committee. Founded in July 2009, the network now has forty members, but comprises a wide range of organization types, he added—from smaller ones like Investigate West, to older ones like the Center for Investigative Reporting, to those with different business models, like Voice of San Diego.
“There’s no standard for where you should be right now,” Houston said, but surviving the first year is critical for journalism startups, and he is confident that Investigate West will continue to grow.
Hibbard said that she’d like Investigate West to produce six to eight big investigations over the course of the next year, and perhaps add another full-time staff reporter. Smith currently has a grant from the The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships to work on a story that will look at the health of people in a highly polluted urban Seattle neighborhoods, and the team funded an upcoming story about cruise ships’ impact on local waters through Spot.Us. Besides emphasizing those features over its blog work, she and McClure also said that over the last year they have realized a need to focus on the Pacific Northwest, where they have the greatest expertise, rather than on the entire West, as originally planned.
All of the news partners interviewed for this article said they looked forward to working with Investigate West again, and perhaps on a regular basis, although they did offer suggestions for how the team could make itself more valuable. Boardman, for instance, hoped that Investigate West would get in touch with the Times sooner next time and perhaps offer a “menu of story options,” which his newsroom could be more involved in developing. Addy Hatch, the city editor at The Spokesman-Review, said that I-West should consider the length of its stories, which were clearly written for the Web rather than a tight newshole. And Bresnahan, at KCTS 9, suggested that the team add multimedia components to its print stories, although he added that he thinks I-West is “already onto this.”
For their part, Hibbard and McClure both said although they did not expect how time-consuming the logistical aspects of the job—fundraising, marketing, promotions, bookkeeping, etc.—would be, they prefer their new jobs at Investigate West to their old jobs at the Post-Intelligencer. (Hibbard laid out her rationale and tips for launching a nonprofit journalism startup in a pair of interesting YouTube videos.)
“It’s a heck of a lot of work and I think the biggest thing for a journalist to consider [when contemplating launching or joining a startup] is all the non-journalistic things that you have to do,” she said. “But I’d much rather be out there exploring that new territory than be back in the newsroom watching circulation take another 5 or 10 percent dip. It feels better to be out of the cusp of something new.”