Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Investigative reporting is critical for the future of local news. Here's a project to help it, and it needs YOUR help!

By Al Cross, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

Here's a great idea that needs your active support: a project to put experienced investigative editors in local newsrooms that want to do investigative reporting.

Reporters Danielle Gable, left, and Bob Clark pose with editor
Rose Ciotta and their award from the New York State AP.
And it's more than just an idea; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rose Ciotta has proven it can work, with six months as a projects editor with the Olean Times Herald, in Olean, N.Y., and the Beaver County Times in western Pennsylvania. She helped the Olean paper win its first statewide award for investigative reporting.

The Times Herald, which has a Sunday circulation of 9,000, won third place for investigations by small newsrooms in the New York State Associated Press contest for "Olean’s Weak Anti-Blight Plan Puts Stress on Rental Housing," which exposed bad rental-housing conditions in the city in New York's Southern Tier. Now Tom Dinki, a reporter for the Community Media Group paper, is working on the plight of shrinking rural school districts.

In Pennsylvania, GateHouse Media's Beaver County Times did a four-part series on the impact of the opioid crisis in and around Beaver, population 4,500, which has had the state's highest death rate from fentanyl overdoses. "Soon after the January report, the state’s governor declared a statewide opioid disaster emergency," Ciotta reports.

Ciotta's work was funded by the Investigative Editing Corps, a pilot project funded by the Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Now Ciotta is seeking major funding to keep it going, and needs to hear from local newsrooms so she can show funders that there is a demand for such help.

Gamble wrote in a support letter, “I’m no longer the same person I was — I am more capable of delivering good journalism to my town, and I am more motivated than ever to serve it.” Times Editor Lisa Mascaro wrote, “This type of editor help is critical to small newsroom operations. As quickly as our industry changes, the one constant is the need for investigative journalism. A program such as Investigative Editing Corps would ensure that small newsrooms could make a difference.”
Ciotta writes, "The reporters heard from people in the community grateful to them for exposing the city’s failure to enforce housing codes. . . . Investigative reporting is what will endear readers to their local news organizations. Citizens need to know that their local news outlet — whether it’s print, radio, digital or broadcasting — will take on important local issues and will uncover the truth regardless of who is involved."

For an independent look at the project, read this story by Kristen Hare of the Poynter Institute. Ciotta says such help "would work best in small newsrooms where editors are too busy with daily duties to drive any investigative work and where reporters can benefit from working with an experienced mentor." Please let her hear from you, by taking this short survey.

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