The Pocantico Declaration: Creating a Nonprofit Investigative News Network

1 07 2009

July 1, 2009

Pocantico Conference Center, NY*

Resolved, that we, representatives of nonprofit news organizations, gather at a time when investigative reporting, so crucial to a functioning democracy, is under threat. There is an urgent need to nourish and sustain the emerging investigative journalism ecosystem to better serve the public.

Recognizing, that there are many forms of potential collaboration: Editorial, which at the least could be doing joint accountability journalism projects, publishing on the same day on multiple websites with other, multimedia partners, which would entail efficient, shared information, reporting and synchronous editing; Administrative, exchanging information about necessary organizational “back office” functions such as employee benefits, health care and general liability insurance, libel review and insurance, directors and officers insurance, etc., and perhaps even centralizing some of these functions to increase efficiencies; and Financial, at a minimum, exchanging development-related information and even jointly fundraising, at the most, pioneering new economic models to help to monetize the shared, combined content of the member organizations, in order to achieve a more sustainable journalism;

Realizing, that there are gradations of editorial, administrative and financial collaboration, and more broadly, that the current journalistic and economic milieu could hardly be more complex; and that, as this new, dynamic nonprofit investigative journalism continues to evolve in unprecedented ways, so, too, will its collective sensibilities become more clear. Thus, the number of interested investigative news publishers will very likely increase, which means that basic shared goals and news values must be established.

Therefore, with a full appreciation of both the complexities and the opportunities to be achieved by more formalized collaboration, the nonprofit news publishers at Pocantico hereby declare that preparations should be immediately made to form a collaboration, the Investigative News Network (working title). Its mission is very simple: to aid and abet, in every conceivable way, individually and collectively, the work and public reach of its member news organizations, including, to the fullest extent possible, their administrative, editorial and financial wellbeing. And, more broadly, to foster the highest quality investigative journalism, and to hold those in power accountable, at the local, national and international levels.

A Steering Committee is hereby formed to oversee this new venture, and it will be comprised of: Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity; Sandy Close, executive director of the Pacific News Service; Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University; Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation; Laura Frank, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network; Margaret Wolf Freivogel, founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon; Brant Houston, Knight Chair professor in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois; Joel Kramer, CEO and Editor of MinnPost; Charles Lewis, founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; Scott Lewis, CEO of voiceofsandiego.org; and Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The Committee may decide to add one or two additional members, as needed. Initially, it will seek and obtain sufficient grant funding to develop a plan for sustaining and strengthening nonprofit investigative journalism.

The Committee will begin immediately to spearhead the fundraising work for a planning grant and a possible grant for continued editorial project collaboration, including doing major investigative projects, and foster greater administrative and related, “back office” organizational efficiencies. In addition, the Committee will design and construct an Investigative News Network website, and will take full advantage of other emerging technologies to coordinate, curate and showcase the best content of the Network member publishers and its growing, searchable “long tail” archive. The committee is also expected to put forward recommendations about the Network’s news standards and practices to be followed by all members, and will define such difficult issues as the criteria for Network membership and whether they have been met. The initial fiscal agent for any Network funding and disbursements will be the Center for Public Integrity, the fiscal agent for the Pocantico conference, until such time as the network is able to be its own fiscal agent.

Overall, the Steering Committee will, in general, implement the declaration, oversee deliverables, and do whatever is necessary to ensure greater investigative reporting and non-editorial, operational collaboration between Network member organizations. At this juncture, the Steering Committee will be the interim governing body for the network, until such time as a new nonprofit corporation may be formed with its own Board of Directors.

What is clear in this Pocantico Declaration is that we have hereby established, for the first time ever, an Investigative News Network of nonprofit news publishers throughout the United States of America.

_____________

*This report is based on materials prepared for these meetings at Pocantico and the discussions that took place there and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, its trustees, or its staff.

Funding for this conference was generously provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Surdna Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.

Nonprofit news publishers in attendance, in alphabetical order, include:

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Bill Buzenberg, Center for Public Integrity

Sandy Close, Pacific News Service

Sheila Coronel, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism

Brian Duffy, National Public Radio

Margaret Engel, Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation

Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network

Louis Freedberg, Center for Investigative Reporting

Margaret Freivogel, St. Louis Beacon

Florence Graves, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism

Andy Hall, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Lorie Hearn, Watchdog Institute

Mark Horvit, National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (IRE)

Brant Houston, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Joel Kramer, MinnPost

Daniel Lathrop, Investigate West

Charles Lewis, Investigative Reporting Workshop

Scott Lewis, voiceofsandiego.org

Bob Moser, The Texas Observer

Cherilyn Parsons, Center for Investigative Reporting

Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting

Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Stephen Segaller, WNET.ORG

Trent Seibert, Texas Watchdog

Stephen Smith, American RadioWorks

Gordon Witkin, Center for Public Integrity

Melinda Wittstock, Capitol News Connection

Also attending:

Marcus Baram, Huffington Post

Gene Gibbons, Stateline.org

Sarah Laskow, Center for Public Integrity

Dunstan McNichol, NJSpotlight.com

Ellen McPeake, Center for Public Integrity

Rick Rodriguez, Arizona State University

Ricardo Sandoval, Sacramento Bee

Observers:

Leonard Downie, Jr., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Naomi Jackson, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Ben Shute, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

David Westphal, USC Annenberg

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14 responses

1 07 2009
Knight Foundation Blog » Nonprofit Journalism Organizations Form Investigative News Network

[…] group also issued a declaration outlining the need for the network in a time of diminishing resources for investigations by the […]

1 07 2009
Investigative Journo Orgs Can’t Write! - City Desk - Washington City Paper

[…] glad that an alliance of nonprofits are joining hands to create an organization to promote investigative journalism. That’s important […]

1 07 2009
Eric Longabardi

A question – how does one join this group and what are the requirements to do so?

1 07 2009
Tobi Dragert

This is most exciting to any progressives (and probably conservatives as well …!) and so extremely needed network of actual investigative journalists.

Please keep me apprised on status and progress. I know there will be donors happy to help this fabulous effort get off the ground.

1 07 2009
Colin Fogarty

The Pocantico Declaration of July 1 is an inspiring document. This must happen. The Northwest News Network (N3) proves on a regional level that collaboration works, that pooling resources allows news outlets to serve their audiences better, and that nonprofit journalism remains a stable funding model, when others falter. The same can work for investigative journalism. Congratulations.

2 07 2009
JULIE GAY

I am in Rocehster, MN. This is a town with a struggling paper, TV and a Minnesota Public radio outlet. The paper doesn’t do in-depth. The local MPR reporter very clearly stated she does not want to receive my blog on local government issues. I don’t opine, but rather start with some sort of question that I ask officials about. The answers usually many more rocks need to be turned over.

I don’t have a local group to compare notes with – avenues of investigtion, sharing thoughts etc. I am not a radio reporter.\

What can I do, even to be part of your new network?

2 07 2009
Join or die? « Looking Left

[…] Network. The group, which formed out of the 3-day Pocantico conference that finished today, posted it’s charter online. Their central mission is simple: to aid and abet, in every conceivable way, individually […]

2 07 2009
Eye on Williamson » Coalition forms to create Investigative News Network

[…] explore collaborative possibilities for investigative journalism. Today, the groups released their Pocantico Declaration, spelling out the immediate next steps to formalize their partnership in the Investigative News […]

2 07 2009
Tiffany Edwards Hunt

Count me in. Keeping people honest in Hawaii with http://www.bigislandchronicle.com... ALOHA… Journalist til I die…

2 07 2009
John Carey

The United Nations is vastly unreported. Only scandal seems to make it into the press and TV. But I have been covering important UN events for a number of years in a weekly free print and local TV program called “United Nations Week: New and Views.” I would be glad to submit this for use by the new network.

I have also for nearly 43 years published monthly “United Nations Law Reports” which are unparalled anywhere else that I have ever heard of. I am an accredited correspondent at the United Nations with access to press conferences and all documentation. I have always been astonished at the lack of UN coverage.

3 07 2009
Dennie Williams

Promoting Investigative Reporters Needed Isn’t it amazing how all those in charge of newspapers, televised and radio news as well as magazines and Internet news sites bemoan the dearth of investigative reporting due to more than a professional recession? Yet none of those publishers, editors, news managers or broadcast or Internet news directors with the resources seems to be interested in creating fair opportunities for freelance investigative reporters! Thousands of experienced reporters have been bought out or laid off in the past five or more years! Think about the loss of those decades of journalistic experience! How or when will it ever be harnessed again? Isn’t that the creative power which intimidates government and corporate corruption on all levels of society? So without it where is the news policing power to help protect the public? In four years of freelancing after 39 1/2 years of news reporting, I have had some success in moving my investigative stories, mostly into one Internet site, only to be paid pittance for months and months of work (averaging $300 to $400 a story). Meanwhile, I have spent frustrating weeks and months attempting to place my stories with competitors elsewhere. Either no editor answers emails or phone calls, or when they do, their lack of effort in reading the stories or the suggestions is simply incredible. To top it off and explain themselves, some editors even insult the story or the writer. But afterward the story appears elsewhere on the Internet and spreads to more than a dozen other websites sometimes with enthusiastic commentary from readers. The editors or news directors are all too busy with their own agendas and their diminutive favorite cadre of handpicked or fame picked reporters that they can’t find the time for a freelancer. Yet indeed they advertise their sites as welcoming freelance writers. It has become so notoriously bad a market for experienced freelancers that some laid off and bought out reporters in New Jersey started their own Internet site and are mostly working for FREE!!! Amazing! In the meantime, what are all those media owners, news executives, publishers and editors making? It’s time for a change! Some charitable journalist or media fanatic with the funds and resources needs to start a website promoting investigative freelance reporters nationwide! That site could quite easily create a list of outstanding investigative reporters nationwide – complete with their resumes, special abilities and past stories. It could then attempt to pair those reporters up with news media not only locally, but nationwide, and even internationally. Who is up to this critical task?! If there is no one stepping forward, then this country is in for some prolonged periods of expanded government and corporate corruption WALL TO WALL!

5 07 2009
Wendy Bacon

This attempt to collaborativey promote and build investigative journalism sounds great. Is an international network envisaged?
Wendy Bacon
Director, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism
Australian Director, Global Environmental Journalism Initiative

7 07 2009
Nonprofit news organizations form network but bring different priorities » Nieman Journalism Lab

[…] established national centers wasn’t readily apparent in the the flourishing rhetoric of the Pocantico Declaration released by attendees on Wednesday. A steering committee formed by the declaration is charged to […]

12 07 2009
Fabio Turone

I’d also like to know what you are planning at the international level: I am Italian, and work in Italy, but I am a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (along with a couple other US groups) and I’d like to support investigative science journalism with the newly formed group of Science Writers in Milan, Italy (sciencewriters.it) that I currently direct.

Fabio Turone, Milan, Italy

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