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Inside the Newsroom

'Reinventing Journalism' recounts executive director's trials, tribulations in new business model

October 4, 2011, 10:27 AM | Christa Scharfenberg

Today, we’re releasing “Reinventing Journalism,” Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal’s personal account of joining the Center for Investigative Reporting and launching California Watch. We hope that the report, written at the request of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will help other nonprofit reporting ventures learn from our experience and shed light on where the rapidly changing landscape of journalism, and especially investigative reporting, might be headed.

As he says in the opening paragraph, Robert had no idea what he was getting into when he walked into CIR in 2008. “Reinventing Journalism” is his personal account of finding his way: from his own history as a copyboy and young reporter, to assignments around the world, to being in the ring for the collapse of the traditional media business model, to seizing the opportunity to create a new kind of journalism organization, to his own evolution from journalist to what he calls “salesman/evangelical entrepreneur.”

Robert writes about becoming a fundraiser and its excruciating challenges; describes the launch of California Watch and how the distribution and impact of its first stories exceeded his wildest expectations; and addresses the search for sustainability and looking forward to the future of investigative reporting and the nonprofit model. Lastly, he distills his top 10 lessons learned...

Animating the future of investigative reporting

September 9, 2011, 12:05 AM | Robert J. Rosenthal

The use of animation to tell an investigative story is something that is relatively new here at the Center for Investigative Reporting. But it's a form of nontraditional storytelling that fits into our strategy of telling stories on multiple platforms with the goal of reaching a wide and diverse audience – and delivering the story in the form readers enjoy and are most comfortable with.

We released a major investigative project on Wednesday in collaboration with NPR and PBS' "NewsHour." It had all the elements of our collaborative model: print, radio and broadcast reports; exclusive documents made available in DocumentCloud; a transparent description by CIR’s homeland security reporter, G.W. Schulz, of how we produced the story; interactive multimedia; stand-alone online video; and maps. But until about a month ago, we did not have animation.

That's when CIR Senior Multimedia Producer Carrie Ching stepped up. Ching had produced a highly successful animation several months ago working with reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo and illustrator Arthur Jones called "The Price of Gas." The animation flew across the web and brought CIR’s brand and journalism to new audiences. It has since been nominated for an Online News Association award...

Center for Investigative Reporting, California Watch named finalists in online news awards

August 31, 2011, 1:48 PM | Meghann Farnsworth

The Center for Investigative Reporting was named a finalist in five categories, including four with California Watch, in the Online News Association awards announced today.

Launched in 2000, the Online Journalism Awards are the only comprehensive set of journalism prizes honoring excellence in digital journalism.

“We are extremely proud of our staff and what they have accomplished," said Mark Katches, editorial director for the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch. "It’s exciting to see this many nominations in such a prestigious contest – especially so many for a start-up organization that didn’t exist a couple of years ago.”

Anthony Moor, a managing editor at Yahoo, said in a statement on the association's website, "We found that excellence in digital journalism today requires not only traditional shoe-leather reporting and engaging storytelling, but also sophisticated use of social tools and multimedia techniques." Moor, along with Ruth Gersh, the Associated Press’ director of global product operations, co-chairs the Online Journalism Awards Committee.

The categories in which the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch are named finalists...

Newsrooms combine forces to cover high-speed rail

August 11, 2011, 12:05 AM | Mark Katches

In January, we launched the California Watch Media Network and announced that a group of major news organizations had joined as charter members.

These news partners signed up to receive a set number of stories produced by our award-winning watchdog team. But we hoped the network would be more than just a way to deliver California Watch content. We wanted to bring media outlets together as collaborators – to pursue big stories as a team.

And we are seeing this vision take shape as a group of news outlets joined forces to cover high-speed rail.

The topic merits attention. The estimated $45 billion rail system would be the most expensive public works project undertaken in California – if it ever gets built. The goal is to link Anaheim and San Francisco in 2.5 hours via trains rushing at 220 mph through the state’s verdant, unglamorous central valleys.

The proposed first leg would connect Fresno and Bakersfield, reducing cow pastures, almond groves and onion fields to impressionistic blurs.

The idea for our reporting initiative came up during a phone call with Fresno Bee Executive Editor Betsy Lumbye, who expressed interest in tackling the topic with California Watch and other partners that had joined our network...

California Watch, Center for Investigative Reporting's Open Newsroom connects reporters and readers

August 9, 2011, 5:48 AM | Ashley Alvarado and Meghann Farnsworth

Yesterday, reporters from California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting fanned out to Wi-Fi-enabled coffeehouses across California, from San Francisco to San Diego. (We even had a reporter in Austin, Texas.) This was the first time CIR staffers participated and also the first time we invited partners from our California Watch Media Network to join us.

California Watch, Center for Investigative Reporting to host Open Newsroom

August 4, 2011, 11:59 AM | Ashley Alvarado

This week, California Watch officially opened its Southern California bureau. It’s yet another milestone for the newsroom, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting that has grown rapidly in its first two years with headquarters in Berkeley and a bureau in Sacramento. As we continue to grow – in size and reach – so, too, does our commitment to public engagement. We want a two-way relationship with readers: an open dialogue that allows and encourages people to inform our reporting.

On Monday, California Watch – and, for the first time, Center for Investigative Reporting – staffers will spread out to work in coffeehouses from San Francisco to San Diego – and even Austin, Texas – for our fourth Open Newsroom event. Our goal is to meet you, our readers, and have one-on-one conversations about the issues that matter most in your community.

We’ll be plugged into Wi-Fi at the cafés listed below from 9 a.m. to noon. At some locations, we’ve even invited reporters from our California Watch Media Network partners (click on locations for details). Whether you’ve got tips, questions or complaints, we’re here to listen and talk. Stop by and say hello, or follow our tweets with the hashtag #opennews.

To find out where each reporter will be, check out the list and map below. We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the participating coffee shops.

On eve of 2nd birthday, California Watch set to open Southern California bureau

July 14, 2011, 6:05 AM | Mark Katches

Almost two years ago, we launched our new investigative team at California Watch, the largest investigative reporting team operating in the state.

We started with an office in the Bay Area, inside our mother ship at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and soon opened a Sacramento office across the street from the state Capitol. We always planned to open a Southern California bureau, believing we couldn’t really be California Watch if we were only “watching” the upper parts of the state.

The state has 58 counties and one county alone, Los Angeles, accounts for roughly 10 million people, about 25 percent of the state’s population. More than half of the state’s residents can be found in just six Southland counties – Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. 

Today, we are happy to announce that California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting will open a Southern California bureau next month.

Joanna Lin, one of our two health and welfare reporters, and Ashley Alvarado, our public engagement manager, will christen the new bureau inside the newsroom of The Orange County Register. To start, Lin and Alvarado will be based in Southern California. But we have room for visiting staffers and an intern, and we hope to expand our presence in Southern California at some point, perhaps as early as next year, with more reporting resources.

As traditional newsrooms have cut back, they have been left with vast stretches of open space inside their newsrooms or buildings. We are able to capitalize in a way that benefits our organization and our hosts...

Story leaked to source raises concerns about distribution process

July 12, 2011, 6:05 AM | Mark Katches

Something bad was bound to happen eventually.

California Watch has distributed stories for print, radio, TV broadcast and online-only publication to roughly 200 news partners since September 2009.

Last month, someone breached our confidentiality.

But first, a little background on how we work with our media partners.

Our story lists are shared with our network members, outlining our developing stories weeks and sometimes months before we publish or go on the air. We typically distribute embargoed content two weeks prior to the publication date to give our partners time to offer feedback and plan for the space needed to accommodate rather large packages that often include photos, graphics, video and multimedia elements.

It takes a lot of faith and trust to do what we do.

I never would have imagined doing things this way as little as three or four years ago. Investigative journalists in particular are typically guarded – even paranoid.

Some keep even their own colleagues at arm's length, worried that they will lose a scoop or compromise a source if information falls into the wrong hands. But at California Watch, we’ve operated on trust – trust that newsrooms won’t steal our stories, mishandle our planning memos or break embargoes.

Trust is a two-way street. Many news organizations have shared details about their stories and plans – placing faith in us to keep these details confidential. This mutual trust has paid off for us and for our partners. We wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it...

Republic of Cannabis: How would you change marijuana laws?

July 5, 2011, 7:39 AM | Meghann Farnsworth and Ashley Alvarado

Last week, the Obama administration sent out a letter to U.S. attorneys reminding them the cultivation and distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law. The letter also stated the U.S. Department of Justice can prosecute “those who knowingly facilitate such activities,” strongly implying the government would be cracking down on states, such as California, that up until now have been skirting the law.

In a joint investigation with KQED, and in association with “FRONTLINE,” the Center for Investigative Reporting is launching a series of reports looking at how the United States, and especially California, has gotten to this point. Today, more than a third of all states have some form of legislation allowing for medical marijuana use – in California, the city of Oakland went further than any other city by proposing to license four large pot-growing facilities...

Parents use Facebook security features to protect kids from predators

June 21, 2011, 12:05 AM | Meghann Farnsworth

Protecting children online has been a growing concern since, well, the Internet went mainstream. Predators can easily hide their identities, pretending to be younger and using fake profile pictures. With more than 500 million users worldwide, Facebook is the social network of choice to share photos and information, as well as to connect with people around the world. While it is against Facebook’s policy for children younger than 13 to have accounts, Consumer Reports found that more than 7.5 million do. And, even when a child doesn’t have his or her own account, a study released last year found that 92 percent of U.S. babies have some kind of online presence before age 2.

We asked members of our Public Insight Network to share their thoughts on this issue and whether they approve of the 12-and-younger set having their own Facebook profiles. While the vast majority of respondents said their children 12 and younger did not have Facebook accounts, many said they do post pictures of their kids online. They also said they would post pictures of their friends’ children without asking permission, but had privacy settings in place to protect those they didn’t know from seeing pictures. Only one said his or her son had been contacted by someone he didn’t know after posting his phone number on Facebook...

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