Nonprofit news organizations gather at Pocantico

8 07 2009



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; 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,

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,

Sarah Laskow, Center for Public Integrity

Dunstan McNichol,

Ellen McPeake, Center for Public Integrity

Rick Rodriguez, Arizona State University

Ricardo Sandoval, Sacramento Bee


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

Naomi Jackson, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Ben Shute, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

David Westphal, USC Annenberg

Questions raised on Tuesday

1 07 2009

What’s the network structure?

Steering committee & sunsetting. Subcommittees. Who’s on it?

Should there be a website that aggregates content from network partners?

What’s the brand?

Editorial standards. There should be some, but what are they?

What is the mission of this network? Is it to promote content or to improve financial health?

Long-term funding: how to stay on foundations’ radars OR how to move to other revenue streams

Should alignments be by geography or subject area or both?

If the network generates revenue, how is it split up?

How do we keep momentum going – who’s doing what? What are the outputs? How do we engage everybody? How do we have concrete steps?

Should the frame definitely be “investigative” reporting? Or “public affairs”?

Competition vs. collaboration on an issue like rapid-response capabilities

How can we get on mobile platforms?

Building capabilities is multilingual, multicultural, multi-communities, multi-class. Where are our capabilities for that?

Who signs off on a story?

Possible follow-ups/strategies

30 06 2009

1. Templates for MOUs

2. A list of collaboration pros & cons

3. A list/matrix of people’s best resources & capabilities

4. What are the nuts and bolts of collaboration for this network?

5. Is there a way to be strategic in testing out different models/ideas?

6. A wiki and/or listservs for sharing ideas/resources

7. Co-op for legal services for libel insurance, donation services, etc.

8. Non-profit world resources: find out more on donor policies, resources for meeting compliance issues, insurance, etc.

9. Education program for traditional news media to pave the way for effective partnerships

10. Bartering services — List of who has what that they’d like to barter?

11. Identify ways to be multiplatform i.e. Who is your public TV station?

12. Opensource APIs

13. Discussion of resolution coming out of the conference

14. What are the workgroups?

15. Are we monetizing shared/joint distribution?

Summary of morning discussion points

30 06 2009

Consensus Issues:
1. Sustainability, New Business Development

2. Editorial Collaboration (Regional–needs definition)

3. Best practice in training a new generation of journalism students for a different media environment

4. Need for assistance with back office operations and possible cooperative model for insurance, benefits, payroll, web development, etc.

5. Ethnic partnerships

6. Common format for data

Monetizing the News

30 06 2009

Peggy Engel suggests this article on how to monetize the news by enforcing copyright laws.

Creating the new Investigative News Network

23 06 2009

By now you are gearing up and getting ready to head to Pocantico next week—arriving at this beautiful Rockefeller estate in the afternoon of Monday, June 29th, at around 3-4 p.m. There has been considerable buzz about the historic opportunity offered by this conference. We have many more people who would like very much to attend, but we simply cannot accommodate them because of severe space limitations. We’ll need more room if we do this again.

During our preparations, we thought it might be useful to have an informal web home for the conference. Here you’ll find the agenda, bios for the conference participants, and logistical information. We’ve had a very limited time to plan the conversation we expect to have at Pocantico. The informal steering committee has been made up of Bill Buzenberg at the Center for Public Integrity, Brant Houston at the University of Illinois, Chuck Lewis at the American University Investigative Reporting Workshop, and Robert Rosenthal at the Center for Investigative Reporting. We are tremendously grateful to the three major foundations who have made this meeting possible: Rockefeller Brothers, Surdna, and William Penn—Thank you!

If it’s useful, we can continue to post updates here as the conference progresses. And if there are any avid Twitter users in the group, we thought we’d throw out #inewsnet as an idea for a hashtag to use in your tweets. If you’ve got a better idea or want to add to this site, please email Sarah Laskow, a Center for Public Integrity staff writer who’ll be taking notes at the conference and is managing this website (slaskow at publicintegrity dot org).

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone on Monday afternoon, June 29th. Bring your creative and collaborative ideas.