Thursday, April 17, 2008

CNHI invests in investigative journalism to allow its small papers to pull off big projects

Investigative journalism is not easy, and it is definitely not cheap. And in the current state of newspapers, such expensive efforts are often the first to go. While major newspapers are cutting costs, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. "has decided to use its corporate resources to generate investigative stories for its 90-plus daily newspapers," Alex Tilitz reports in American Journalism Review. "Each of these pieces would be too formidable for the small papers to tackle by themselves; this would be a way to provide all of them with in-depth reporting."

CNHI, based in Birmingham, Ala., began the Elite Reporting Fellowship program in 2006. Bill Ketter, a former editor at The Eagle-Tribune (an Andover, Mass., paper which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 on his watch) and CNHI's current vice president of news, runs the program from his Massachusetts office. Each year, the program selects 10 fellows, who are assigned a national reporting project and given training (and equipment) to create multimedia reports for the entire chain. During that time, about four to six weeks, fellows are freed from their daily newsroom duties to focus on the project.

"We felt very strongly that good journalism is good business," Ketter, a former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, told Tilitz. "There's been so much negative publicity in our craft about the demise of in-depth journalism, and this more vigorous journalism has almost been eliminated. [The fellowship] creates a regular flow of high public service journalism."

In addition to the quality stories produced by the program, Tilitz notes that the added equipment and expertise have transformed papers such as the Ottumwa Courier in Iowa (circ. 14,000). The fellowship experience of one of its reporters "has ushered in a new era of multimedia and live blogging, a technique the paper has used to cover a local murder trial and election campaigns," Tilitz writes. (Read more)

Here are some examples of program's projects:

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