There are more than 50 non-profit journalism organisations operating today in the US, which leads the rest of the world in investigative journalism funded by private donations.
A sizable number of them – eight at last count – were founded by veteran US journalist Charles Lewis, including the Center for Public Integrity (CFPI), which has gone from his bedroom to having more than 40 staff and a budget of more than $8 million.
Lewis now runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW), which employs 14 staff, a third of which are students.
He said that the IRW was purposely “trying to mix the generations”, adding that having young people around vastly increases the organisation’s capacity to innovate.
Like the CFPI, the workshop also has a none-too-shabby budget of $2.2 million a year.
But speaking on an International Journalism Festival panel today on how small online news outlets can have an impact, Lewis said that millions of dollars and scores of staff were not a prerequsite for doing in-depth investigative work.
There is a non-profit in San-Diego that is doing this kind of work and they have two people. They have done five impactful investigations.
One of the ways you do that is data. In San Diego they took the response times of ambulances in the city, and looked at how they differed over certain areas. This came from one dataset and one guy did it, over a few months.
Great journalism can be done by a few people.
Speaking to me after the session, Lewis said that with the rise of non-profits there was an “interesting ecosystem emerging” in US news.
Listen to more from Lewis on the future of that system and in the US and the future of the relationship of non-profits and traditional mainstream media:
- New York Times: AP to distribute non-profit journalism
- MediaShift: “Collaboration the key to future of investigative journalism”
- Nieman Journalism Lab: For-profit model can’t support investigative journalism, says Len Downie
- Non-profit news site ProPublica goes live
- What next for the UK Investigations Fund?