Personal and Professional Journey Melds with Industry Research
For the past year, as a journalism graduate student at American University’s School of Communication, I’ve worked with Investigative Reporting Workshop Executive Editor Chuck Lewis and my fellow Workshop interns to research and catalog the nonprofit journalism ventures that are the new models for today’s independent reporting of public affairs at the local, state and national levels. We’ve now profiled 75 different organizations from all over the United States, and these profiles tell a compelling story about where journalism as an industry is now and where it’s going.
The organizations I’ve helped research are incredibly diverse. Some, such as InvestigateNY, have been around for less than a year; others, like The Alicia Patterson Foundation, have published for more than 40 years. Some investigate specific beats, such as The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and others are more of a catch-all source for news, including Oakland Local. Grant money varies widely: Newsdesk.org has about $10,000 a year to run its operations while ProPublica's budget is in the millions.
I’ve corresponded with people from all walks of life about operating budgets, addresses and IRS forms. I’ve helped maintain a growing list of data about reporters, publishers and editors all over the country who work day in and day out (sometimes without pay) communicating the news they deem important for their readers.
And while the names, sizes and target audiences of these 75 organizations differ greatly, I’ve found they share a common thread, one that weaves its way through each mission statement and organization description: a passion for and commitment to telling honest stories about important topics, from government accountability to public school systems, even in the face of crippling cutbacks in what many said was a dying industry.
Some people called me crazy for quitting a well-paying, stable government contracting job — I was working as a consultant with such agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection — during my quarter-life crisis to pursue a career in journalism. And there are times when I’m working as an unpaid intern for the CBS Evening News (yet couldn’t be happier) when I wonder if I was crazy. But it was the same passion and commitment that made me do it, so I feel I can actually relate in some small way to each of the organizations I’ve doggedly researched.
While journalism is still dealing with transition and uncertainty left to tackle, it has been fascinating and comforting to see the industry thriving, as communication and technology reach an unprecedented crossroads. As Chuck frequently told his students, myself included, we should consider ourselves lucky to be journalists right now, at this exciting time when everything is changing and history is being made.
In looking at the journalism ecosystem through a researcher’s eye, I’ve not only been collecting data for a soon-to-be-published report but also orienting myself with my own future job market and with my own future colleagues – from Aspen to New York to Puerto Rico – with whom I share that same passion for journalism. Who knows, maybe someone called them crazy once, too.