September 18, 2009

InvestigateWest part of a new plurality of media voices

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rita_hibbardwebDespite all you’ve read about the death of the news business, interest in news has rarely been greater, writes Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books Sept. 24 edition. And while he explores the tough times in the news business and specifically takes note of the demise of the newspaper (the Seattle P-I) that helped give rise to InvestigateWest, he also specifically calls out InvestigateWest as one of the independent Phoenixes rising from the ashes and holding out the promise of a new, noncommercial plurality of media voices.

Internet users spent 53 minutes a week reading news online, he writes, up from 41 minutes in 2007. Traffic at the top 50 Web sites increased by 27 percent. And this is a bright spot we at InvestigateWest are particularly cheered about — some of that traffic was fueled by young readers. We like this because we are dedicated to training the next generation of journalists. And this summer, we’ve had two of the best, Emily Linroth and Natasha Walker, intern journalists from Western Washington University in Bellingham, who have been working with us in figuring out a new way to do journalism.

Massing includes InvestigateWest in his search for what he calls “new buds” in the blackened landscape of the newspaper wars — devastation wracked by debt, the collapse of advertising and the decline of paid circulation. But the appetite for news and information, for the product journalists deliver, remains strong.

Massing speaks of a “restless array of entrepreneurs, innovators, and idealists — taking advantage of the Internet’s low entry barriers” emerging, and “testing new ways of delivering the news.” He examines the for-profit success stories — including Politico and Slate,and looks at non-profit sites that have spring up in the Twin Cities, New Haven, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago, including InvestigateWest. He also mentions the creation of the Investigative News Network, of which IWest is a founding member,  formed to help the investigative nonprofits grow to be collaborative and sustainable.

“I’ve been doing investigative reporting for thirty years,” says Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and an architect of the new network, “and this by far the most interesting time I’ve seen.”

There’s a window open here, Massing muses, but it won’t be open long. The opportunity is for small players and their independent voices to be heard and to truly be players on the media scene. The old media monopolies are crumbling. Some have already crumbled.

“The opening won’t last forever. Lurking in the wings is a potential new class of media giants. Google, Yahoo, MSNBC, and AOL, all have vast resources that could finance a new oligopolistic push on the Web. Sheila Coronel, who directed an investigative reporting center in the Philippines before joining the Columbia faculty, sees parallels between what’s occurring here and what took place there after the fall of Marcos. As the old media monopolies crumbled, a host of smaller players rushed forward, offering a new plurality of voices. Before long, however, the rich and powerful regained control, and those new voices were snuffed out.

At InvestigateWest, we don’t aim to be snuffed out. We aim to continue in our efforts to build community in the West through powerful reporting focused on the region’s environment, social justice and health. We are dedicated to preserving the legacy and power of change-making journalism and the craft of those who know how to wield that power, enhanced by the muscle of today’s technology and fueled by citizen journalists who broaden our scope and widen our lens. That’s what we’re about. And we hope you’ll help us accomplish those goals.

— Rita Hibbard

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