Nonprofits launch Investigative News Network

A group of investigative reporting nonprofits has endorsed formation of a new umbrella organization aimed at sustaining the burgeoning investigative nonprofit movement and bringing new prominence to its journalism.

A resolution, “Pocantico Declaration: Creating a Nonprofit Investigative News Network,” was approved Wednesday by a diverse group of nonprofit leaders – established organizations like the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting, as well as newcomers like Texas Watchdog and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

The group’s mission will be to “aid and abet, in every conceivable way, individually and collectively, the work and public reach of its member news organizations, including … their administrative, editorial and financial well-being.” The full text of the resolution is available here.

Bill Buzenberg, director of the Center for Public Integrity, said the the collaborative is an important advance in addressing the public’s information needs at a time of great change in journalism. “The power of it could be really big,” he said. “The importance of it? It has great potential.”

The new group emerged from two days of discussions by about three dozen people gathered at the Pocantico conference center on the Rockefeller estate grounds near Tarrytown, N.Y. Nearly all major nonprofit investigative groups were represented, save ProPublica, which Buzenberg said was invited but did not to attend.

The resolution appoints an eight-member steering committee charged with establishing the new network. Its initial charge: securing a planning grant to get the collaborative up and running. The expectation is that, within a year, the network would be established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and could be posting new content before then.

Discussion about the document focused on the question of whether the group’s work would be primarily on the business side (finding ways to help sustain investigative reporting nonprofits) or on the editorial side (encouraging news collaboration and giving greater prominence to good work). It was clear in the group’s discussions that many nonprofits are seeking help with some of the nuts-and-bolts of running their businesses, and MinnPost CEO Joel Kramer, among others, argued that the first order of business was sustainability. In the end, the document emphasized both missions, leaving it to the steering committee to decide priorities.

Little more than a year ago, it appeared investigative reporting might be an endangered species, with generally well-paid investigators ripe for the chopping block at many struggling news organizations. While many of these reporters indeed have lost their jobs, the nonprofit sector has erupted in a sudden growth spurt, with new organizations at the national, regional and community levels. Among the new sites: Texas Watchdog, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Investigative Voice (Baltimore), plus others about to launch — the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, California Watch, The Investigative News Source (San Diego) and InvestigateWest (Seattle).

In addition to serving these organizations, the new network also hopes to represent the interests of organizations where investigative journalism is only part of their mission. In the latter cattegory are some of the community news sites like Voice of San Diego, MinnPost and St. Louis Beacon, all of whom were represented at the conference. So were a wide swath of other nonprofit sites and associations, including National Public Radio, New America Media, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and WNET.ORG, among others.