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Born under a Bad Sign: IRE Marks 30th Anniversary

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Born under a Bad Sign: IRE Marks 30th Anniversary

Article excerpt

June 2 marked 30 years since Don Bolles was blown up in his car outside a Phoenix, Ariz., office building where he had been lured with promises of inside information on a mob-related land fraud scheme. Bolles, an investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic, died 11 days later from injuries suffered in the bombing -- leaving behind a career of dogged investigations and gutsy reporting.

But while the 1976 tragedy ended Bolles' life, it gave a new spark to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), the nationwide group that was just forming when Bolles was killed. Seizing on the murder as a sign that investigative reporters needed to stand up to such intimidation methods, the group -- which held its first convention just days after Bolles' death -- chose to take a stand.

Led by veteran Newsday Editor Bob Greene, a collection of journalists from around the country convened in Phoenix later that year to not only show unity, but to finish Bolles' work. Between September 1976 and March 1977, some 30 reporters from New York to Denver worked on what become known as "The Arizona Project," a 23-part series on corruption, organized crime, and land fraud in Arizona. All or part of the series eventually ran in more than 25 newspapers, from The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., to The Miami Herald, according to Greene.

"It gave the idea that if you kill a reporter, we have such a unity that we will come in and continue the work," says Greene, now retired and consulting for Stony Brook University in Long Island, N.Y. "We also wanted it to sink in nationwide. The more widespread it was printed, the more hurt it does to them."

The Associated Press and United Press International also ran portions of the series, while CBS Radio offered audio reports. "One day, The Boston Globe skipped a part of the series and got numerous phone complaints," Greene recalls. "There was tremendous solidarity in the press."

IRE plans to launch a yearlong celebration of its 30th anniversary during this year's convention, slated for June 15 through 18 in Fort Worth, Texas. Much of the event will be devoted to remembering Bolles and the Arizona Project, according to IRE Executive Director Brant Houston. "You cannot talk about one without the other," he said of IRE and the project. "It has been inspiring to journalists all over the world."

IRE's related plans include an ongoing collection of new articles on the group's Web site and in The IRE Journal about Bolles and the project, testimonials on how IRE and the project affected journalists' lives, and a new fund-raising effort aimed at increasing the IRE endowment from $3 million to $5 million. Says Houston, "That will mean that the very core operation of IRE will be supported."

In addition, the IRE Web site will provide a daily look back at Bolles' death and the Arizona Project with a "30 Years Ago Today" feature that will chronicle what occurred each day from the time Bolles' car exploded to the end of the series.

Another related event will be the inclusion of Bolles' car, a 1976 Datsun, in the Newseum, which is set to reopen in its new Washington, D.C., location in 2007. A reunion of Arizona Project participants also is being formed for the 2007 IRE convention to be held in Phoenix. "They will help with more oral histories," Houston adds. "We want to recognize their importance."

Greene, who was a senior editor at Newsday when Bolles died, recalls Bill Woestendiek, editor of the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson at the time, calling then-Newsday editor David Laventhol. …

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