So far, the series, or parts of it, have run in almost a dozen newspapers. In addition, it has been translated into Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and two forms of Chinese and is being distributed to foreign language papers via New American Media. It has run in at least five of the state’s major television and radio markets. KQED, a public broadcaster in Northern California, worked with California Watch to produce a series of radio reports based on the “On Shaky Ground” package. The two outlets also collaborated on an eight-minute video that was distributed to ABC affiliates. The PBS NewsHour ran a version of the story April 11, which will be repurposed for a half-hour special airing on KQED public television on April 15.

California Watch provided its stories and data to its distribution partners in all media two to three weeks ahead of publication in order to allow those that wished to do their own, locally oriented stories and to solicit feedback from their editors, which both Rosenthal and Katches called very helpful.

In an impressive extension of the investigative process, over one hundred websites throughout the state have produced localized stories based on California Watch’s data. Marcia Parker, the organization’s West Coast editorial director, pointed to stories from Rancho Palos Verdes, Rosemont, Venice, Pinole, and Echo Park that have homed in on seismic risks in their area. Below stories from the Patch sites in Highland Park and Arcadia, readers have left comments saying they intend to bring the information provided to the attention of local officials.

“Patch is doing what it does best: Telling readers in the towns we cover what this story means for their schools,” Parker wrote in a post discussing the benefits of collaboration. “California Watch discovered a mess, and Patch is working to make sense of it school by school.”

California Watch has already received almost 30,000 orders for its earthquake-safety coloring book, including a large order from the school district in Chula Vista, near San Diego, which plans to give them to all its students from kindergarten through fourth grade, Rosenthal said. Its iPhone/iPad app, which costs ninety-nine cents, has been downloaded a couple hundred times. And the organization is organizing a series of community events throughout the state related to earthquake and emergency preparedness.

California Watch charges all of its partners for its content and data, either through its membership network, which provides access to a handful of stories each year, or on an individual basis. Prices vary based on circulation. “The revenue doesn’t come close to covering the cost of the project,” said Rosenthal. “Conservatively, if you lay in salary, benefits, editing time, and all the things you would if you were an accountant, you’re probably looking at half a million dollars,” of which partner fees probably covered only about 5 percent.

Performing a valuable journalistic service that could protect thousands of schoolchildren across the state, however, is priceless. Following in the footsteps of venerable reporting projects such as USA Today’s “The Smokestack Effect—Toxic Air and America’s Schools,” California Watch’s “On Shaky Ground” has “Journalism Award” written all over it. According to Rosenthal, Katches, and Johnson, the response to the series has already been overwhelmingly positive. Even officials in the state architect’s office have written to say that while they didn’t like the stories, they could find no fault with them. California Watch’s work is not done, however.

“The catch phrase we’re hearing from just about everybody is, ‘You’ve only scratched the surface, young man. You’ve only scratched the surface,’” said Johnson. Thankfully, Rosenthal and Katches plan to keep him on the story for the foreseeable future, with more investigations to come.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.