The Growing Impact of Local Non-Profit Investigative Journalism in 2017

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Investigative non-profit journalism is flourishing this year, likely because it is top of mind for so many people. Media credibility is in the spotlight, and those of us who dig deep into uncomfortable places and ask for our reader’s trust by being unbiased and fact-driven feel it shining especially brightly. New York-based ProPublica, one of the country’s most high-profile non-profit newsrooms, opened a regional bureau in Chicago with a team of 12 reporters, editors and technologists. In Vermont, the non-profit VTDigger has become the country’s largest investigative reporting non-profit focused on local or state news. And at inewsource in San Diego, we’re projected to reach $1.1 million in revenue this fiscal year — our most successful year yet. inewsource’s small but versatile team of reporters covers a variety of topics but focuses on four: education, health, the environment and local
. Through our partnerships with the local PBS and NPR affiliate station, KPBS, and San Diego’s leading commercial news station, CBS8, our work reaches more than a million people a week through web, radio and TV. Our investigations have had more impact this year than ever before. Here are a few examples of what that impact looks like:
  • Our series on a long-ignored transparency law prompted the city of San Diego to enact a new law mandating disclosure of business interests behind billions of dollars in city purchases and contracts.
  • Our data analysis on diabetes-related amputations in San Diego County and California uncovered a “shocking” increase that has mystified diabetes experts.
  • An investigation into a local non-profit Christian college found administrators couldn’t account for more than $20 million in expenses. The college’s CFO was replaced shortly after publication.
  • Our dogged pursuit of problems at a local school district, which serves one of the county’s poorest areas, forced the resignation of an interim superintendent and uncovered millions of dollars that were misspent or unaccounted for. It also prompted the state to begin what it calls an “extraordinary audit.”
  • Our analysis of test score data posted by the California Department of Education found huge errors in the data. The state removed the faulty data and initiated a system to notify the public when bad data has been replaced.

Reporter Brandon Quester of inewsource on a reporting assignment. Used with permission.

Collaboration is the future

During a year of successful, high-profile collaborations across journalism, we’ve used partnerships with other local and national non-profits to have an even bigger impact. For example: What comes next? In looking ahead to 2018, local investigative reporting non-profits are likely to have an even more important role in the media landscape, through more partnerships, increasing readership and an ever-more urgent need for trustworthy journalism. We will continue to produce stories that have immediate impact. As a non-profit investigative newsroom, we can only do this work with the support and generosity of people who care about credible, fact-driven journalism. Through the end of the year News Match, the largest-ever grassroots campaign for non-profit news, is helping us and newsrooms like ours in communities across the country by matching donations by individuals to non-profit newsrooms. That’s how we will raise the funds necessary to pay for what’s to come in 2018, more local investigative reporting – journalism’s gold standard. Brad Racino is senior reporter and assistant director at inewsource, an investigative journalism non-profit in San Diego, California.
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