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Knight Foundation unveils $15M investigative initiative

(This is the news release from the Knight Foundation's announcement at the IRE Awards Luncheon, June 13, at the 2009 IRE Conference in Baltimore.)

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced a $15 million initiative to help develop new economic models for investigating reporting on digital platforms.

The grants, some on-going, some new and some yet-to-be announced, will promote both local and national investigative reporting in order to help provide the vital stories that citizens need to run their communities and their lives.

“Communities are harmed by what they do not know. A community can’t clean up a toxic dump, or remove a corrupt official or right any other wrong if its citizens do not know about it,” said Eric Newton, Knight Foundation’s vice president for journalism. “We’re awash in information, yet it seems to be getting harder to find good investigative reporting.”

America’s daily newspapers employ some 10,000 fewer journalists in their newsrooms than they did a decade ago, he noted, and membership in groups like Investigative Reporters and Editors has declined in recent years.

By looking for projects that emphasize high-impact stories, digital platforms, diverse revenue streams and national leadership, he said the foundation hopes to “help pioneer models that help keep this important journalism flowing.”

The three newest grants are:

Center for Investigative Reporting  ($1.32 million): to launch a new multimedia investigative reporting project in California that encourages print, digital and student journalists to collaborate on stories;

Sunlight Foundation ($565,000): to develop web tools so the public can easily access information on Congressional lawmakers, from their campaign contributions and votes;

ProPublica ($1.01 million): to help the nation’s largest new nonprofit investigative reporting organization create a sustainable business model;

Robert Rosenthal, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s executive director, said he was looking forward to launching the project that will “make a difference for Californians.”

“We will not only expose issues but inform the public. Our collaborative model will be part of the solution for the crisis facing journalism today,” Rosenthal said.
The Sunlight Foundation will use its grant to further its development of tools to “dramatically increase online access to crucial public information about the workings of our government, improve data-driven reporting by journalists and citizens’ ability to hold elected officials accountable,” said Ellen Miller, the foundation’s executive director and co-founder.
Richard J. Tofel, general manager of ProPublica, said: “Our mission is to do investigative journalism with ‘moral force,’ and our principal task remains to create great stories that have meaningful impact.  Yet, that requires resources, not only as a catalyst, but over the long run. This innovative grant from Knight challenges us to chart and follow a path to financial sustainability for ourselves and as a model for others.”

The announcement was made during Investigative Reporters and Editors’ (IRE) Annual Awards Luncheon in Baltimore, before a group of more than 700 journalists and journalism educators from throughout the world.

Other major grants already active under this initiative are:

News 21 ($4.87 million): to help 12 university-based investigative reporting projects look for a model of self-sustainability;

Boston University ($250,000): to create a regional, university-based investigative reporting unit that draws on reporters from the local print, broadcast and digital press;

Center for Public Integrity ($454,000): to improve the center’s expertise in multimedia content and to pioneer new ways to raise money for investigative projects directly from the public;

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ($1.5 million): to endow a Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting;

Investigative Reporters and Editors ($2 million): to create an endowment to permanently train journalists in the areas of watchdog and computer assisted journalism;

Knight investigative reporting grants also include awards to the University of California at Berkeley, MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, and TracFed, a project of Syracuse University. The foundation expects to make some $3 million in additional investigative grants in the coming years.

The Investigative Reporting Initiative complements Knight Foundation’s Media Innovation Initiative, which includes the Knight News Challenge, an international contest to fund digital innovations that transform community life, plus efforts to expand digital access and transform journalism education.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invests in journalism excellence worldwide and in the vitality of U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change. For more, visit

Contact:  Marc Fest, Vice President of Communications, 305-908-2677

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