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Journalism Program Gets the Nod from AP and PBS

Photo: Wendell Cochran, Charles Lewis, and Larry Kirkman at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference luncheon sponsored by AU. In the background, Mark Horvit, right, and Brandt Houston

From right, Wendell Cochran, Charles Lewis, and Larry Kirkman at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference luncheon sponsored by AU. In the background, IRE executive director Mark Horvit, right, and Brant Houston. (Photo: Mike Unger)

Updated June 23, 2009. The Associated Press is launching a pilot project to distribute watchdog and investigative journalism from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop and three other nonprofit organizations to its 1,500 member newspapers.

The world’s largest news-gathering organization made the announcement June 13 in Baltimore at the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference, which featured a prominent AU presence.

Executives at AP weren't the only ones impressed by the School of Communication. Mark Glaser, who follows digital media for PBS, visited the school last month to find out why, as he put it, it has become a hotbed for new journalism.  

"The Center for Social Media is there. The J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, moved to American from the University of Maryland. And Charles Lewis, the founder of the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, decided to start his new Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University as well," Glaser wrote in his blog.

"I met with all the folks representing these centers at American and asked them my burning question. The answer kept coming back to a few factors: 1) the dean, Larry Kirkman, was an alchemist, a producer who brought people in from across disciplines; 2) the student body is interested in social justice and change; 3) Washington, D.C., is a great place for academics to be part of the political action."

Kirkman said the six-month agreement, which begins July 1, aligns well with the school’s mission.

“With the workshop we have brought together a critical mass of talent, experience, and dedication to create a university-based laboratory for innovation in public service media,” he said “AU has a role and a responsibility to provide new directions and new models for serious journalism to fill the social need left by the crisis in the industry.

“Our agreement with AP, like those with MSNBC.com, USA Today, and Gannett, reflects the emerging realization in mainstream media that there are valuable opportunities to collaborate with nonprofit journalism projects. AU has become a hub of R&D in bringing investigative reporting to wider audiences, in engaging, informing, and involving people in the issues that matter to them.”

Professor Charles Lewis, executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and Professor Wendell Cochran, its senior editor, were among the speakers at the four-day conference that attracted more than 700 journalists from around the world.

Lewis participated in the “Alternative Models for Investigative Reporting” panel, and said the AP pilot program could very well represent the wave of the future.

“Amidst all of the troubling news about the state of journalism, the exciting news is the historically unprecedented, emerging new ecosystem of investigative reporting centers throughout the nation,” he said. “It is brilliant, and a public service, for the Associated Press to provide this important, high quality content to its clients and the public.”

Cochran spoke on panels about strengthening coverage of the financial crisis and open record laws. He also helped organize a luncheon for international journalists that AU has sponsored since 2003.

“It fits our profile perfectly,” he said of the Friday event, during which journalists from 32 countries dined and shared reportorial experiences. “Investigative reporting is one of our focuses inside the journalism program, and so is international journalism, so this marries those two things really well. It’s become one of the signature events of the conference.”

The luncheon, as always, was a hit, but this year the big news was the AP pilot program. The goal of the project is to provide the nonprofit journalism organizations an additional distribution channel for their work while making it easy for newspapers to find and use the content they produce, the AP said. Content will be provided via the AP's Web-based delivery system, AP Exchange, at no cost to the newspapers or to the contributing organizations.

AU’s Investigative Reporting Workshop is the only academic organization among the four, which include the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, and ProPublica.

“We’re seeing exciting growth in foundation-supported and other nonprofit journalism organizations that are producing public service journalism, which is at the heart of AP's news values," said Sue Cross, AP senior vice president, global new media and U.S. media markets. “As a news cooperative that enables its members to share content and provides them with a variety of choices, we want to foster an exchange that helps them easily access this journalism.”