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Editor's weekly: Watchdogs unite

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 4, 2009 -  For a couple years now, as their newsrooms have imploded, journalists have been in shock and grief. A chief concern has been the future of investigative reporting. As the traditional watchdogs falter, who will step up to expose corruption, greed and stupidity among public officials and private interests? The question is not really about the welfare of journalists. It's about the welfare of the public, which has depended on the journalists' work.

Last week, a remarkable gathering of investigative reporting organizations provided the strongest signal yet that shock and grief is finally giving way to energy and an entrepreneurial spirit. Meeting at the Pocantico conference center in New York, non-profit reporting enterprises of various kinds found common purpose and formed the Investigative News Network. It has a triple mission: to foster collaboration on investigative projects, to share and showcase outstanding work and, perhaps most important, to nurture the existing and emerging organizations which can sustain this work into the future.

The Beacon, along with MinnPost and voiceofsandiego.org, contributed our perspective as regional non-profit news organizations. Others present represented the wide range of new journalistic efforts now underway - from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which includes investigations among its international reporting, to several university-based centers which work on state-based investigations but have no regular publications of their own. Chief organizers of the gathering were the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting, two longstanding independent national investigative centers whose prominence has increased recently as traditional news organizations have faded.

Investigative journalists are typically a cantakerous lot, but a cooperative spirit prevailed at Pocantico. A joint statement of purpose, the Pocantico Declaration, begins by reflecting the shared sense of urgency: "Resolved, that we, representatives of nonprofit news organizations, gather at a time when investigative reporting, so crucial to a functioning democracy, is under threat. There is an urgent need to nourish and sustain the emerging investigative journalism ecosystem to better serve the public."

It goes on to spell out a series of goals: " to aid and abet, in every conceivable way, individually and collectively, the work and public reach of its member news organizations, including, to the fullest extent possible, their administrative, editorial and financial wellbeing. And, more broadly, to foster the highest quality investigative journalism, and to hold those in power accountable, at the local, national and international levels."

We're still a long way from a secure future for investigative journalism and the organizations which support it. But the energy, creativity and commitment evident at Pocantico are an encouraging sign that we've turned a corner and are finally traveling together in the right direction.

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