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CIR Industry Report - Reinventing Journalism

CIR Industry Report - Reinventing Journalism

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Published by CaliforniaWatch

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Published by: CaliforniaWatch on Oct 04, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Robert J. Rosenthal,Executive Director
In the spirit o journalistic transparency, “Reinventing Journalism” isRobert J. Rosenthal’s account o assuming leadership o the Center or Investigative Reporting and launching Caliornia Watch, its statewidereporting team. This report was written at the request o the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with the aim o helping ellow journalismorganizations, particularly nonprot startups, learn rom CIR’s experiences.
Support or this report was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Christa Scharenberg, Narda Zacchino and Mark Katches provided invaluable eedback and editing support. Thanks to Nikki Frick or copy editing and Kate Jessup or organizing the sidebars and or her research.
SustainingInvestigativeJournalismMeans Findinga New Model
I’m not sure I would have becomethe executive director o the Center or Investigative Reporting in January2008 i I had really understood thechallenges ahead o me and hadthought them out careully; I had noidea what I was getting into.When CIR approached me, I was 59and unemployed. For the second timein six years, I had let, or been askedto leave, high-level editing positionsat large metropolitan newspapers.Most recently, I had been managingeditor at the San Francisco Chronicle;beore that, I was editor o The Phil-adelphia Inquirer. Nearly 40 yearsworking in newsrooms let me withsolid core competencies. I knew agood story, I was passionate and I gotgreat personal reward rom enablingtalented journalists do what they dobest. But many o these skills were notvery useul outside a newsroom.I could also look back, knowing thatI had been privileged to be involvedwith great journalists and important journalism. As a 22-year-old, I was aneditorial assistant at The New YorkTimes and was assigned to work onthe Pentagon Papers team. At 25, as areporter at The Boston Globe, I waspart o a newspaper-wide eort thatwon the Pulitzer Prize gold medal or public service.I later moved to the Inquirer, where Iwas a reporter and editor during thatnewspaper’s golden age. It was a de-manding culture in which reporterswere encouraged to be ambitious andtake risks. We also believed we couldproduce the best journalism in thecountry. It was a supportive systemdriven by stories, especially thosethat could make a dierence. And itwas un.The newsroom cultures o that eranurtured young, talented journalists.So many o them had worked their way up rom copyboy or clerk jobs,through a system that rewarded hardwork and talent. It was an environ-ment where young journalists weretaught by some o the most skilledand experienced men and womenin the business. The best editors gavereporters room to fourish, guidingand teaching along the way, and theyheld us to rigorous standards.I learned that the best editors, and thebest newsrooms, cleared the way or  you to succeed – while lending all thesupport needed. This was vividly con-veyed by one o my most infuentialand powerul mentors, Gene Roberts,then the editor o the Inquirer. He had just told me he was going to nameme oreign editor, my rst editing job. I asked him, “What do the besteditors do?”“Well,” he drawled, “they are like ablocking back in ootball. They gothrough the line, knock somebodydown, clear the way, and lie in themud so the guy with the ball can stepon their back and score.”The image has stuck with me. Themost successul editors put their betson people who can deliver or them.When a reporter proved he or shecould produce a great story, the re-ward was to get to do the next one.There was an adrenaline-lled ur-gency that made newsrooms crackle.Those stas rarely worried aboutwho was nancially sustaining thework. And they never imagined thatit might end.At the Inquirer and the Chronicle, Ibelieved that I could make a dier-ence in these newsrooms that, likemany others, were beginning an un-precedented struggle or survival. ButI was deeply rustrated by a lack o vision, ambition and passion on thebusiness side that was throttling cre-ativity and undermining the crucialrole that journalism, and especiallyinvestigative reporting, play in our democracy.As an editor, the priority was on con-tent – not prot. That was the respon-sibility o the business side. I never had to worry about raising a dime.Many conversations with publish-ers or corporate ocers ocused onmoney. I was never comortable withthose discussions. Far too oten, theseconversations were about cutbacksaimed not at maintaining prot, butincreasing it at the expense o good journalism.Once, on a visit to the Miami corpo-rate headquarters o Knight Ridder (the owner o the Inquirer), I walkedinto an oce to nd two executivesdancing a jig. I stood there, embar-rassed, while they laughed and ex-plained that the share price had hit anew high that day. They were aboutto cash in some stock options.That scene stuck with me and was acrude reminder o the disconnect invalues between journalists and thecorporate oce. There was nothingwrong with prot; those prots hadsupported the work o journalists,including cost-intensive investigativereporting, or decades. But the de-mand or ever-increasing prot wasthe source o the dierence betweena creative, story-driven culture and anumbers culture.I relate that story because I see nowthat every deeat and every successI’ve had, rom the rst day I walkedinto a newsroom in 1969 as a summer intern to the day I exited as an editor decades later, has inormed my deci-sions. These experiences have provid-ed the uel to help me transorm and

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