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JA Resource Q&A: Sunlight’s Scout is “useful in an obvious way.”

August 21, 2012 in Blog, Craft, Technology

Scout is a tool by Sunlight Labs. Visit their resource page on the JA“Useful…right away.”

Scout developer, Eric Mill, click to visit Eric's JA Profile width=For developer Eric Mill, many goals came together in Scout. It’s a simple concept – a tool you might have expected to exist already. It helps public information flow freely – a key goal of Sunlight. And there is much more it can do. Mill says he’s proud of Scout because it’s “useful in an obvious way, right away.” Is it to you?

Journalism Accelerator

Last week we kicked off a new online conversation series by talking with Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill about Scout, a tool that alerts you to developments in legislation. This series is designed to help you learn more about resources you might not have had a chance to try yet, or share your insight into those that you know. To participate in or listen in on future conversations in this series, check back or follow @journaccel on Twitter to see what’s coming up.

Every couple of weeks we’ll choose from our growing collection of practical tools, reports, databases, blogs, platforms, new business models and more. JA “resource Q&As” go deeper into the tools and information featured on this site, bringing together both creators and those using the resource to help new iterations continue to align more closely with community interests and needs.

Scout tracks state and federal legislation, federal regulations and speeches in Congress on subjects you choose to follow. We picked Scout for our first resource Q&A because it’s easy to use and offers tangible results, such as cutting research time and delivering information you want quickly and directly. Based on comments in past JA discussions, including our forum on covering Election 2012, journalists value tools that are straightforward and practical. Read the rest of this entry →

JA publisher profile with ProPublica’s Stephen Engelberg: “This may shake out to be a Golden Age of investigative reporting.”

August 10, 2012 in Blog, Community, Craft, Distribution, Education, Experiments, Policy, Revenue, Technology

Stephen Engelberg

ProPublica managing editor Stephen Engelberg at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center. Image: Lisa Skube.

Journalism Accelerator

Raising money, gaining audience, having impact. Despite a ten million dollar annual budget, 34 reporters and partnerships with multiple major news organizations, ProPublica faces similar sustainability issues as many startup publishers. ProPublica’s managing editor (set to become editor-in-chief early next year) Stephen Engelberg spoke with a couple dozen journalists at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center in Portland this week. Here are his views on some of the major challenges investigative, nonprofit news organizations face today.

Stephen Engelberg had never done any fundraising before becoming second-in-command at ProPublica, the high-profile, nonprofit, investigative news organization set up in 2007. He didn’t have to right away; for the first three years ProPublica received ten million dollars a year from a foundation set up by Herb and Marion Sandler with their earnings from the savings and loan industry. ProPublica’s budget has remained the same, but the Sandler Foundation share fell to half last year. As Engelberg prepares to lead the first online-only news organization to win a Pulitzer Prize, money, branding, the expectations of donors and making an impact are on his mind. Read the rest of this entry →


June 27, 2012 in Craft, Experiments, Resources, Technology

[W]e’re proud to introduce Scout, a tool that allows you to create customized keyword alerts to notify you whenever issues you care about are included in legislative or regulatory actions. This project embodies our goals as an organization: anyone can now freely get the immediate access to information that previously required significant organizational capacity in your state capital or Washington, D.C.

Start by entering a keyword or phrase you would like to get updates about. Scout then saves your subscriptions and sends notifications via email or text message whenever the subscribed issue or bill is talked about in Congress, mentioned in the Federal Register or comes up in state legislation. Through your profile you can create as many alerts as you’d like and group them by tags with the additional option to make them public for others to follow your issues. Users can also complement a Scout subscription by adding optional external RSS feeds, such as press releases from a member of Congress or an issue-based blog.” Source: Sunlight Foundation

[W]e’d be remiss if we didn’t give credit to the Sunlight Foundation’s latest legislative language tool, Scout (, for alerting us to the existence of the original provision. You can use the tool to set up email alerts for key phrases or follow a particular bill. It covers Congress, regulations across the whole executive branch, and legislation in all 50 states.

We use Scout to get updates anytime Congress is considering expanding what can be withheld under the federal FOIA by setting up an alert that searches bills in Congress for the term “552 (b)” (thanks to a reform written into law last year, all new b3 statutes must cite FOIA – USC 552).” Source:, via the Sunlight Foundation

100 Reporters

June 27, 2012 in Community, Craft, Experiments, Resources

100Reporters is a revolutionary news organization, dedicated to forging new frontiers in responsible journalism. It joins scores of the planet’s finest professional reporters with whistle-blowers and citizen journalists across the globe, to report on corruption in all its forms. The organization, spearheaded by veteran correspondents of top-tier news outlets, aims to raise the caliber, impact and visibility of citizen-driven investigative journalism, as a means of promoting transparency and good government.

Thanks to advances in technology and heightened transparency among international institutions, we are in an unprecedented position to know and report more than ever before on both the flow of illicit cash, and on the spending habits of government officials and their friends….

Our goal is to embrace technology’s potential to build new forms of journalism around a towering, intractable global issue. We’re working with citizens–the first victims of graft and cronyism–to expose the corruption around them, and bringing these citizens into the reporting of stories where possible.

With initial backing from The Ford Foundation, we are building a multiplatform site where sources can submit—anonymously, if necessary—news tips and evidence of corruption. These will become the raw material for stories to be reported and written by our professional journalists, and presented in hard-hitting news reports available to a worldwide audience. Where feasible, our 100 reporters will work hand-in-hand with citizen journalists, sharing bylines and payment.” Source: 100 Reporters

JA Use Case: Five steps to pave the way toward collaborative revenue

June 25, 2012 in Blog, Craft, Distribution, Experiments, Revenue

Collaborative growth: Working together to find your own way to sustainability and scale. Image: Pics of Trees

Journalism Accelerator

The JA/Collab Central forum on collaboration and revenue held earlier this spring surfaced more than two dozen examples of collaboration in action. This post examines one, an investigative report on deportations from the U.S. to Haiti, as a detailed use case of a collaboration yielding a high return.

Originally commissioned by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) with a grant from The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, the project deepened the budding relationship between FCIR and Florida public radio station WLRN. It also provided early experience in content sharing for members of the Investigative News Network. Eventually, more than 30 news organizations, both commercial and nonprofit, published an online or print version of the piece.

This use case outlines a successful collaboration that laid the groundwork for a deeper partnership that included revenue. It shows how partners worked together in different ways, explores how they may do things differently in the future, and offers examples to consider as you evaluate the structure and yield of potential or current collaborations. Read the rest of this entry →

JA forum on revenue and collaboration: Seasoned perspective illuminates possibility

April 25, 2012 in Blog, Craft, Revenue

About Trevor Aaronson

Trevor AaronsonTrevor Aaronson co-founded the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting to “expose corruption, waste and miscarriages of justice” around the Sunshine State. Up and running since 2010, FCIR has collaborated on stories with public radio stations and many Florida newspapers, including Spanish language media. FCIR also provides data analysis both on collaborative projects and as a fee-based service.

About Michael Stoll

Michael StollMichael Stoll is executive director of San Francisco Public Press, a startup nonprofit print and web news service for the Bay area aiming to “fill the void of hard-hitting accountability reporting that’s been lost with the downsizing of the commercial press.” Built on deliberate collaboration for content and distribution among multiple journalism organizations, the Public Press doesn’t accept advertising, but is seeking to create a replicable, sustainable nonprofit business model.

Journalism Accelerator

Impact, depth, and revenue. All are clearly potential benefits of collaboration in journalism. Tuesday on the JA / CollabSpace conversation on collaboration and revenue we dug into how, when and why to collaborate. Michael Stoll of San Francisco Public Press and Trevor Aaronson of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shared their stories about various joint journalism efforts they’ve been part of. Some increased revenue, some didn’t aim to, some were “cost-positive” in the words of Michael Stoll. It’s an in-depth conversation within the still-continuing larger discussion, on how collaboration could increase revenue in journalism. Later Keith Hammonds, director of Ashoka’s News & Knowledge Initiative, offered how-tos and examples of collaborations structured with revenue in mind. Michael Skoler, VP of digital for Public Radio International, wrapped up the chat series, imagining a wealth of ways to integrate collaboration and revenue. 

Trevor summed it up right off the bat. “We all want to do better journalism, and collaboration is a great way to increase the quality and distribution of our reporting,” he said. “But FCIR is a business, and we view collaboration as a business relationship.”

So what does that mean on a practical level? For starters, he says, ask yourself how your organization would benefit from a potential collaboration. Both Michael and Trevor have leveraged working with other news organizations to win grants and to gain audience. Michael in particular points to the cost-saving opportunities of bringing the skills of reporters from multiple organizations together to cover one major story. Even though, as many reporters and publishers know, collaborations can mean a lot more work.

As Tuesday’s live conversation and the entire thread reveals, the question of collaboration leading to revenue is complicated by the fact that journalism is often mission driven. But Trevor points to projects taking collaboration large scale, and Michael Stoll calls on public broadcasting to expand its own coverage by collaborating with local news startups. He also suggests that trading skills and content benefits all partners in many situations, but well funded collaboration partners can – perhaps should – help others “keep the lights on”.

You are welcome to add your own stories of collaboration or comments anywhere in this thread. Also check out our other live chats during this forum: Keith Hammonds, director of Ashoka’s News & Knowledge Initiative and former executive editor of Fast Company shared insights; based on both his past experience at the helm of a for-profit magazine and his current work supporting collaborative news and information projects that contribute to social good. And Michael Skoler, Public Radio International’s Vice President for Digital shared details of a major collaboration he’s in the middle of right now, as well as his past work coordinating the work of multiple public radio stations, developing games, and more.

Other posts in this JA series on collaboration include: Use case, the nuanced story behind the story of one successful collaboration. Resources, examples and practices to increase your yield from collaborative journalism. Costs v. benefits: What to consider as you team up. Plus the forum itself, and as captured with Storify.

The JA and Collab/Space 2012 test a new way of extending the conversation

April 10, 2012 in Blog, Community, Experiments, Technology

Journalism Accelerator

When you invest time in a professional conference, the experience of connecting with others can be deeply energizing, leaving you inspired by ideas you hope to explore and people you intend to follow up with. But back in the daily grind we face familiar demands, accountabilities and our regular routine. The great energy and good intentions often dissipate into the ether. How to keep the momentum from fading? Anti-ether – aka the continued conversation that the JA, MediaShift’s Collaboration Central and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism are testing. We’ll expand the conversation that starts this week in a room in California to a JA online forum for deeper exploration over the next couple of weeks. Read the rest of this entry →

Niche news publishing: “No one shoe fits all.”

February 29, 2012 in Blog, Craft, Experiments, Revenue

Journalism Accelerator

Little shoe big foot -- Journalism Accelerator Forum

Image credit: Lars Christensen - Fotolia

Go deep, not wide, in content and audience. That’s my quick overall takeaway from today, Day Two of our forum on sustainable journalism. Today’s conversation focused on particular opportunities for niche sites.

Let’s start with this question, and a thanks to the Oregonian News Network’s Cornelius Swart for posing it:

Who if any have done or understood the demographics of their audience before they launched their projects. Of those out there in the niche world, who has done a media audit since they launched? Are people just pricing products and seeing if they take off? Do people have a sense of audience/customer base in terms of income and consumer habits/values?”

That’s still open to answer on the forum threadBased on comments throughout the conversation, niche news sites have particular opportunities to build tight relationships with their audiences – and that is key to bringing in revenue. Rusty Coats put it this way: To monetize deep content, own the master narrative.

That is, become the voice of authority (through your coverage, of course) on a subject matter – and work diligently to hone that subject matter so that it isn’t too horizontal. Deep coverage is vertical. Readers and underwriters appreciate the focus – and that helps weed out who is NOT your audience or underwriter community.” Read the rest of this entry →

Reporters’ Lab: Tools, Techniques & Research for Public Affairs Reporting

February 24, 2012 in Craft, Resources, Technology

Every day, government offices from the local police department to the federal Department of Energy generate artifacts that could become vital elements in investigative and other original journalism. Even when reporters can pry those records from agency warehouses and hard drives, the stories are still hidden in hours of videos, stacks of forms and gigabytes of data housed in unfriendly formats.

More troubling, the full-time reporters who ply their trade in city halls and statehouses are disappearing,  A 2011 study by the Federal Communications Commission documented the decline of local watchdog reporting and described a resulting ‘shift in the balance of power — away from citizens, toward powerful institutions.’

Our goal at the Reporters’ Lab can be stated quite simply: Narrow the power gap by arming on-the-ground reporters with the tools, methods and techniques used by their sources and those working in better-funded disciplines. We want to build the infrastructure that will empower journalists — no matter where they are, what they cover or what job title they carry — by reducing the cost and difficulty of finding, understanding and documenting stories of public interest.” Source: Reporters’ Lab

Niche Perspective: Publisher forum February 29th examines revenue, collaboration and syndication

February 23, 2012 in Blog, Community, Craft, Revenue

Journalism Accelerator

On Wednesday, February 29th, Day Two of the JA forum on sustainable journalism highlights the practice of niche publishing, one name for specializing in a particular subject matter or a certain type of reporting. Their experiences reflect many common issues local publishers know well.

This is a forum for publishers, businesspeople, and others interested in increasing the revenue of digital news sites. It’s a moderated online conversation, designed as “call and response” – we’ll hear two publishers’ stories, add reflections from a couple of business experts, and invite you to jump in.  Read the rest of this entry →