June 2, 2010
Photos: Stephen Berry (top), University of Iowa journalism professor and IowaWatch Co-founder and Editor; Robert Gutsche Jr., IowaWatch co-founder and doctoral student in mass communication. Click photos for high-resolution images.
UI journalists launch independent investigative news outlet, IowaWatch.org
A University of Iowa professor and student journalists are launching the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that will publish investigative and explanatory reports at http://www.IowaWatch.org.
IowaWatch will be modeled after nonprofits like ProPublica or The Center for Public Integrity, but will focus on in-depth coverage of local and state issues.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which publishes at WisconsinWatch.org, will be the fiscal sponsor of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. IowaWatch is applying for nonprofit status and will soon begin fundraising to hire an executive director and paid interns. With its first crew of reporters already at work, IowaWatch will start publishing this fall.
“Commercial news outlets have a tremendous and extremely valuable duty to conduct routine coverage -- council meetings, crime and spot news, feature stories -- and with fewer resources, that has to be their priority,” said IowaWatch Co-founder and Editor Stephen Berry. “But someone still has to carry out the watchdog function of journalism, and that’s where IowaWatch comes in.”
Berry, a faculty member of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, established IowaWatch with Robert Gutsche Jr., a doctoral student in mass communication. Berry was a journalist for 33 years, having worked last at the Los Angeles Times. While working for the Orlando Sentinel, Berry and his partner, Jeff Brazil, won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in the investigative reporting category for a four-part project – “Tainted Cash or Easy Money?” – that exposed abuses of power and racial targeting by an elite squad of deputies of the sheriff in Volusia County, Florida. He authored “Watchdog Journalism: The Art of Investigative Reporting” (Oxford University Press, 2008).
“Stories on IowaWatch will meet the standards a major metropolitan newspaper would require. We will mix modern multimedia journalism with traditional journalism values, and our staff will be held to the highest performance and ethical standards,” Berry said. “Our mission is to produce quality investigative and explanatory journalism for the benefit of our readers, the people of Iowa, and to train journalists by supervising and directing their efforts.”
Berry and Gutsche established IowaWatch partly to provide a venue for students’ long-form projects. They are looking for office space on campus, and hope to work with student journalists from other Iowa colleges and universities.
At the UI, the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates provided a $2,500 fellowship for a student reporter this fall, and five student journalists are producing content this summer. If funding permits, the goal is to create six paid internships by the third year.
“The Iowa Center provides important opportunities for our students to link their educational experiences with pressing real-world issues,” said UI journalism professor Judy Polumbaum, a member of the center’s board. “Journalism schools are taking a key role in emerging collaborative ventures for the pursuit of high-quality public affairs reporting, and Iowa’s journalism faculty, not surprisingly, have been extremely supportive of our involvement in this trend.”
IowaWatch also plans to collaborate with commercial news outlets across the state on an ad hoc basis. For example, a television station could request IowaWatch’s help investigating a tip, and the resulting story could be broadcast on that station and posted at IowaWatch.org. IowaWatch will also share the data it collects so commercial news outlets can develop localized stories.
“It’s no secret that newsrooms across the nation, including in Iowa, have cut the number of reporters who are out there learning and telling the public about all the things affecting daily life,” said Lyle Muller, editor of The Gazette, a Cedar Rapids-based newspaper with which the center is collaborating. “The emergence of nonprofit organizations like the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism is filling a gap, and the biggest beneficiaries in all of this should be readers and viewers.”
The center will cover a variety of issues, but healthcare is likely to be one area of focus because of the expertise and research at UI Hospitals and Clinics.
“Nonprofits like ours have sprouted up as a result of the financial problems of traditional news outlets, and I believe they will be a very dominant player in the media landscape from here on out,” Berry said. “ProPublica is still young, but was one of the main Pulitzer Prize winners this year. To me, that’s a transformative development, showing that nonprofit journalism is here to stay.”
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500