Investigations by Nonprofit Teams Prevail

By Houston, Brant | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, July/August 2001 | Go to article overview

Investigations by Nonprofit Teams Prevail


Houston, Brant, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal


As mainstream newsrooms' cutbacks continue apace we may see independent and nonprofit organizations getting a bigger piece of the investigative pie. Although they seldom receive the recognition they should, these news organizations have been doing significant and often groundbreaking work.

For more than 10 years, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., has produced in-depth and startling stories. Led by its founder Charles Lewis, the center has covered numerous topics, including food safety, campaign finance, international tobacco smuggling, the media's influence on federal legislation, and conflicts of interest in state legislatures.

Calling itself "a watchdog in the corridors of power," the center states its mission as "to provide the American public with the findings of its investigations and analyses of public service, government accountability, and ethics-related issues."

The center's most recent book is "The Cheating of America," in which it shows how wealthy individuals and corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It also is running the "50 States Project," a dissection of the conflicts of interest of state legislators.

Lewis, who was a 60 Minutes producer, seeks funding from foundations and private donors instead of advertisers. Although foundations have their own agendas, Lewis has shown it is possible to maintain the center's independence in its judgment and projects. The center has won numerous awards for its investigations (including one from IRE this year for online work) and has consistently attracted notice, especially when it broke the Lincoln Bedroom stay-over story at the Clinton White House.

Over the years, the center also has drawn more funding support, expanded substantially, and created a global team of 70 or so journalists under its division, the International Consortium for Investigative Reporters.

More on the center's work can be found at www.publicintegrity.org and at www.icij.org

Informing through muckraking

Meanwhile, the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, the same year in which we will hold the IRE National Conference in San Francisco (May 30-June 2).

Through all the changes in investigative reporting and its popularity, the non-profit center has persistently pursued provocative, hard-to-nail-down stories, often in collaboration with broadcast networks. The center also works with magazines and newspapers.

The center describes its mission as seeking "an informed citizenry and a dynamic democracy" and that to do that it "conducts in-depth investigations of hidden or complex topics that impact public life, for broadcast or print in the media."

In the past few years, the center has had a particularly productive arrangement with Frontline and San Francisco TV stations, resulting in stories on gun trafficking, schools, the environment and the military. …

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