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Inside the Newsroom

Our new look at California Watch enhances reader engagement

June 20, 2011, 12:05 AM | Mark Katches

Today, our California Watch website gets a new look. Our upgraded site includes easier navigation and an emphasis on enhanced reader engagement.

We first launched our website in January 2010 and have steadily grown our traffic. We’ve picked up a couple of prestigious awards along the way – including an Online News Association award for general excellence and a National Headliner Award for best online-only website.

Despite the accolades, we think we can do better.

Astute readers may have noticed the changes on Sunday. We soft-launched our site over the weekend and wanted to make sure we had caught any bugs before making today's formal announcement.

The changes move us forward. You’ll continue to find our terrific investigative journalism under the new Spotlight label and our enterprise news posts as part of our Daily Report. Nothing about us has changed philosophically. But we really wanted to upgrade the viewer experience and our readers’ ability to interact with us. 

Our new commenting system is more robust. We've made it easier to create a dialogue around our stories. Readers will be able to easily post their comments on our page and on their Facebook pages. Tweets about our stories will be added automatically to our comments section. This connection of social networking platforms will create a louder megaphone or bigger venue for debate and discussion about stories. Additionally, we have...

A young journalist witnesses history with Pentagon Papers

June 13, 2011, 1:45 PM | Robert J. Rosenthal

When the phone rang at the The New York Times on a Saturday afternoon 40 years ago, I picked it up after a couple of rings.

"Foreign desk," I said. 

There was an excited, agitated man on the other end: "I need to speak to Neil Sheehan, I need him right away, and it's urgent. I have to talk to him."

The New York Times, June 13, 1971, containing the first story about the Pentagon Papers.Ariane Wu/Center for Investigative ReportingRobert Rosenthal worked with The New York Times team on the Pentagon Papers series in 1971.

I was on the periphery to one of journalism's most important moments. The Times was a few hours away from printing the first installment of the Pentagon Papers in the edition of June 13, 1971.

And for weeks, I had been part of the team secretly cloistered at the Hilton Hotel. I knew where Sheehan, the lead reporter on the project, was, but I wasn't about to say where.

"Who is this, please?" I asked.

"This is Daniel Ellsberg, and I need Sheehan. It's urgent...

Unusual partnership helps bring justice for Chauncey Bailey

June 9, 2011, 4:36 PM | Robert J. Rosenthal

The first meetings of the Chauncey Bailey Project in the summer of 2007 were unruly, sometimes angry and for many of the journalists in the room saturated with grief.

There were reporters and editors from across the Bay Area who knew Chauncey Bailey, had worked with him, and knew his young son.

Antoine Mackey, Yusuf Bey IV, and Devaughndre Broussard. Yusuf Bey was convicted of three counts of murder today.Carrie Ching/CIRAntoine Mackey, Yusuf Bey IV, and Devaughndre Broussard. Yusuf Bey was convicted of three counts of murder today.

There was also some fear. A journalist had been targeted, assassinated, shortly after breakfast one morning, as he walked to work. Why? From that moment on, other journalists in the Bay area wanted to answer that question and they wanted to make sure that those involved in killing Bailey were brought to justice.

Nearly four years after Bailey's killing, there is justice. Former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV — who a prosecutor said terrorized Oakland — was convicted today of three counts of murder for ordering Bailey and two other men killed in...

More problematic construction projects added to database

June 9, 2011, 12:05 AM | Agustin Armendariz

Interactive screen shotCalifornia WatchInteractive screen shot

California Watch's investigation of seismic safety in public schools featured an interactive database identifying campuses that are home to hundreds of buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards. Our interactive now features more potentially risky construction projects at campuses across the state.

Our "On Shaky Ground" series, led by reporter Corey G. Johnson, found state regulators had routinely failed to enforce the Field Act, California's earthquake safety law for public schools. That failure allowed children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction. At least 20,000 projects – from minor fire alarm upgrades to major construction of new classrooms – were completed without receiving a final Field Act certification.


This week, we added more than 5,500 projects to our interactive that were denied Field Act certification for failure to file important documentation verifying the safety of the construction. It wasn't clear what the safety status was for those projects...

Shaking up the rules of engagement

June 2, 2011, 8:49 AM | Ashley Alvarado and Ariane Wu

Seven weeks. Fifteen hundred miles. Thirty-six thousand coloring books. It’s been nearly two months since California Watch published its "On Shaky Ground" series on seismic safety in California’s public schools, but the stories’ publication did not mark the end of our efforts to cover the issue and engage Californians. During these past several weeks, I’ve traveled the state – from Oakland to Chula Vista – hosting earthquake preparedness trainings, attending safety fairs, and introducing kids to earthquake preparedness through classes, puppet shows and coloring books. Here’s a closer look at our efforts.

Leadership promotions will help our growing newsroom move forward

April 28, 2011, 11:58 PM | Robert J. Rosenthal

Today, the Center for Investigative Reporting is making some big leadership announcements. We’re elevating Mark Katches to editorial director for all of CIR and naming Chase Davis our director of technology.

One of our goals at CIR is to align the story and the technology. What does that mean? For us, it means how we maximize and create new forms of storytelling for evolving platforms with the three-pronged strategy of building audience, growing revenue and engaging as many people out there as possible.

The promotions of Mark and Chase are an important step as we manage this strategy and deal with what we call "opportunity on the run."

Previously, Mark, who just turned 48, had overseen our California Watch newsroom. Before coming back to California, he served as the primary editor on two Pulitzer-winning projects and three other Pulitzer finalists, all since 2004. His promotion will solidify and integrate our CIR and California Watch operations. Mark will continue to oversee California Watch as well as CIR projects and editorial initiatives.

Chase, who will turn 28 in a couple of weeks, has been an investigative reporter on our California Watch team, but he’s also helped develop new websites and tools, including our first iPhone app MyFault, which locates earthquake faults and seismic hazard zones...

California Watch and the business of coloring books

April 12, 2011, 3:39 AM | Ashley Alvarado

California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious nonprofit investigative news organization. Its award-winning reporters focus on crime and injustice, environmental issues and public safety.

So what the heck are we doing getting into the coloring book business?

It all started with an off-the-wall idea in an editorial meeting. While California Watch articles are written for adults, we recognize that oftentimes children are those most affected by the stories we report.

That’s exactly the case when it comes to our series on seismic safety oversight in the state’s K–12 schools. Thousands of children attend class each day in buildings or schools that have not received final safety certifications from the state’s chief building regulator. Some schools are located close to fault lines or within liquefaction zones.

We wanted to create a resource that would help prepare children when the ground starts shaking. So we decided the most effective way to reach and educate our littlest readers would be through an instructive coloring/activity book (we’ve named it “Ready to Rumble: California Watch explores earthquake safety”) and the creation of a furry fellow who could be fun and educational, a buddy and a teacher...

Investigating seismic safety before there are victims

April 7, 2011, 10:32 PM | Robert J. Rosenthal

Investigative reporting is difficult work. It takes unique skills. You don't just say to a reporter find out what's wrong here. It takes sources, digging and time to peel back the layers around a systematic failure. It also takes a certain type of bull-headed, persistent reporter. It takes luck, support and many other ingredients, some obvious, some secret to the sauce. And it takes the skills to tell the story so that it is accessible, understandable, fact-based and fair.

The series launched tonight by the Center for Investigative Reporting's California Watch project about seismic safety in schools throughout California is a story that fortunately does not have any victims.

It was one of the first stories we embarked upon when California Watch started 19 months ago and reporter Corey G. Johnson joined our staff. It has been an arduous process, supported by others, but Johnson’s tenacity has been admirable and painstakingly thorough. Many other reporters, editors and producers have played critical roles bringing this series home.

We believe this is an important series of stories because it reveals problems and issues before a school is badly damaged in a quake and a child or teacher is hurt or killed.

Johnson and the rest of the team of reporters have been asking the types of questions that other news organizations would be asking...

California Watch examines seismic oversight at public schools

April 7, 2011, 12:05 AM | Mark Katches


Tonight, 19 months after joining our staff, Corey G. Johnson finally gets his first byline at California Watch.

I hope you will agree that it was worth the wait.

At 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time we will begin rolling out a three-part series on seismic safety in public schools called "On Shaky Ground." It’s a project that Johnson began working on almost immediately after we gave him his laptop and a desk back in September 2009.

His first assignment was supposed to be a quick-turn anniversary piece about safety issues for the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Johnson had just arrived from North Carolina, and we figured it would be a good, easy way to get his feet wet – and to get him that first early byline. Johnson had never been to California. But his fresh eyes began to see things that other reporters had overlooked. The project became virtually all consuming for Johnson – and ultimately for us.

His desk soon became cluttered with reams of documents, forming a fortress growing higher and higher. Tens of thousands of PDF files about earthquake safety in California’s public schools soon taxed his laptop hard drive. The...

Coffee talk with California Watch

March 29, 2011, 12:49 PM | Ashley Alvarado and Meghann Farnsworth

Apparently, it's true. The third time is a charm, at least when it comes to our still-fledgling Open Newsroom project.

Yesterday, staffers fanned out to coffeehouses to meet readers new and old. We'd done this before. Twice. And both times we'd had – and been happy with – measured success. Yesterday was different.



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