If you’re reading this column over the holidays, then you’re probably concerned about the future of American journalism. And you probably know all too well that the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry, the devolution of television news, and the rise of Internet news sites have raised big questions about where and how our trade will continue to underwrite and produce quality reporting – especially investigative reporting that takes on social issues too often neglected in our media.
Exactly how to preserve and promote investigative reporting in a changing world is a complicated problem that has preoccupied publishers, reporters, readers, and concerned citizens for years now. While the news industry sorts itself out financially, solutions are under construction in the non-profit sector, where advertising, clicks, and infomercial media don’t overwhelm journalistic values.
That is why, during the last few days of 2013, I ask you to consider supporting an important institution that ensures the kind of journalism we value most can thrive: The Investigative Fund. (Here I should disclose that in addition to my other work, I have served proudly at the Fund for several years as editor-at-large.)
With donations from individuals and foundations, the independent and non-profit Investigative Fund supports the craft of investigative reporting across a broad swath of American media, from magazines like The Nation, The Washington Monthly, Harper’s, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, GQ, Time, and The New York Review of Books to major broadcast and Web outlets such as NPR’s Marketplace, Slate, The Huffington Post, PBS, and Fusion-TV, to name only a few.
Over the past year, its grants have again produced stunning stories – including an undercover probe of the sickening conditions suffered by children who work in this country’s tobacco fields. Yes, there are kids too young to buy cigarettes who are hired to harvest the killer crop for a pittance – and get poisoned by the nicotine leaching from its leaves under the broiling sun.
The Fund has sent reporters into all kinds of places where the light of serious journalism rarely shines – such as the shipping warehouses where holiday temp workers toil en masse for low wages until their hands bleed; or the homes where orphaned children are abused by the dozen under the stern oversight of devoutly “religious” adoptive parents; or the obscure places along the U.S.-Mexico border, where innocent people have been wounded and even killed by the Border Patrol for no apparent reason at all.
Since its founding as a pilot project in 1996, the Investigative Fund’s stories have sparked resignations of public officials; triggered FBI probes, grand jury investigations, congressional hearings, and federal legislation. Still others have changed the debate around a key issue or exposed previously hidden forms of abuse and exploitation. Investigative Fund stories have won some of journalism’s top prizes: the George Polk Award, the National Magazine Award, the Sidney Hillman Award, medals from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and many more.
Gratifying as recognition from peers is, what matters more is how the Investigative Fund serves the enterprising reporters who now often struggle to practice their craft. At the Fund, they can obtain the kind of support they need to work on the kind of stories we need. Along with grants for travel, research, reporting, and other expenses, the Fund’s editors provide professional editorial guidance and, when necessary, legal support too.
When a young reporter probing suspicious deaths in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ran into a stonewall at the parish coroner’s office, the Fund hired local counsel who sued for access to hidden documents – and won. When police in Fiji suddenly arrested another young reporter, who was investigating the depletion of that country’s resources to produce luxury bottled water, the Fund reached out to U.S. diplomats – and ensured her safety.
While fearless in its choice of stories, the Fund is rigorous, too, with every article or broadcast fact-checked before distribution. In an era when uninformed and scabrous opinion too often overshadows real reporting, upholding traditional journalistic standards is a critical part of the Fund’s mission.
Should you wish to support the Investigative Fund’s work with a tax-deductible contribution, please visit www.theinvestigativefund.org — where you can first read some of the hundreds of stories made possible by such donations, and learn about their impact as well. This is an investment in the kind of journalism that remains vital to democracy and decency.
Photo: Allen Ormond via Flickr