A main function of a free press is to make sure that agencies taking public money do what they should be doing with that money and that the people working for those agencies are not pocketing any of it for personal gain.
Part of that “watchdog function” involves usually costly, usually time-consuming investigative reporting to ferret out corruption, incompetence and whatever other problems there might be with the way an agency’s employees are dealing with the public’s money, property or facilities.
Because of the way things have gone for news gathering agencies, especially newspapers, newsrooms have been gutted and meaningful investigative reporting has greatly suffered for years.
But nonprofit organizations or organizations funded by foundations and donations are sprouting up in an effort to fill that gap. In Maine, one such agency is the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting founded by – and so far funded by – longtime journalist John Christie. The Center claims affiliation with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University.
The bio on Center’s website indicates that Christie “is a media executive whose 40-year career includes work in four states as a writer, editor, general manager and publisher for newspapers owned by Tribune Co., Dow Jones and Co. and the Seattle Times Co. In June, he retired after nine years as the president and publisher of Central Maine Newspapers, which publishes two daily papers, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.”
Christie’s venture seems to be still getting off the ground, but it did produce a lengthy piece on recent tax reform in Maine. The story strongly suggested that Maine Gov. John Baldacci’s decision to not include a tax on the sale of luxury homes and a sales tax on ski lift tickets was influenced by lobbyists with whom he had close, long-term political relationships.
[Frankly, the story would have benefited from some “eye candy” – photos to illustrate the story and mugshots of the people quoted in the story (as the Bangor Daily News did in its version of the story), sidebar or two broken out from the main, very lengthy story, basic graphics to tell the money part of the story visually, and a few other minor changes that would have made the story appear on his website a bit more pleasing and more professional. Perhaps that sort of thing will be hammered out once he is not the sole employee of the Center. Oh, and there should be a date on the posting. How else would a reader know how fresh the information is?]
The Center’s media partners include the Bangor Daily News, Lewiston Sun Journal, Mount Desert Islander, and The Ellsworth American. Apparently, his departure from the Central Maine Newspapers – Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel, among others – didn’t go so well since the Center’s story was not slated to appear in those publications.
As an out-of-work editor-columnist-blogger, I hope Christie’s effort and those of other nonprofit public service news organizations prosper and grow, and that their leaderships figure out what news executives should have figured out decades ago – sustainability.
Frankly, I don’t know if nonprofit is the way to go.
Below are links to just a few of the nonprofit public service news websites. More and more nonprofits are cropping up and using something such as “nonprofit journalism” should provide a lengthy list.
ProPublica produces national investigative reporting distributed at no cost to media outlets
Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
California already has a handful. The Sacramento-based California Watch is a project of the nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting.
Here’s a link to a blog about California Watch prior to its launch.
There is also the SF Public Press, which is sponsored by the San Francisco Foundation, Independent Arts & Media, and at least 200 individual donors.
VoiceofSanDiego.org is another nonprofit, public service journalism project.
Also, here are links to two DownEast.com blog items on the launching of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, one by Al Diamon and another by Mike Tipping. Both are regular bloggers for DownEast.com.