Here’s how collaboration can connect a volunteer editor with your newsroom

Do you need extra help to carry out an investigative project?

If there is one thing positive about the crisis in local news it’s the willingness of news organizations to collaborate and to accept help from outside the newsroom.

Examples are everywhere of news organizations working together to produce quality journalism and newsrooms launching special projects with the help of funding from community nonprofits.

It’s in that spirit that Investigative Editing Corps is looking to provide expert help to local newsrooms that want to do investigative reporting. Experienced volunteer editors are connected with local newsrooms where they can drive the project and mentor reporters.

My first blog on the proposal attracted many award-winning volunteer editors. I am now especially looking for feedback from editors in local newsrooms. Do you as a newsroom leader need the help of a volunteer editor to help your newsroom carry out an investigative project? Would you be able to help fund any portion of the costs for subsequent projects? Please fill out this form so I can describe the need for extra resources in local newsrooms.

I was able to test the idea in two newsrooms over the past year: The Olean Times Herald in rural New York State and the Beaver County Times in western Pennsylvania with the help of the Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. The fund was launched with support from the Knight Foundation and Knight fellowship alumni and friends.

Rose Ciotta joins Olean Times Herald reporters Danielle Gamble (center) and Bob Clark, (right) on June 2 as they receive a third place award for investigative reporting from the New York State Associated Press Association.

Both newsrooms did projects they wouldn’t have done without the extra help.

There’s no doubt that the picture is bleak for many local newsrooms. Not only have they drastically lost circulation and revenue but the recent jolt in newsprint costs is creating a serious crisis for newspapers.

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan recently wrote about the impact: “We’ve had to make some tough decisions,” Ken Tingley, editor of the Glens Falls Post-Star, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily in the Adirondacks region of New York… With his staff down by about half, he has pulled in the news coverage from a far-flung region to concentrate on just the metro area.

The idea of bringing in extra help appeals to Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues which represents small town and city newspapers across America.

“With sufficient funding, the Investigative Editing Corps could make a real difference in smaller communities and small news outlets — not just directly, but providing examples to inform and inspire others.”

Cross, who is also a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky, reinforced the importance of high impact journalism in local communities.

“It’s critical for local newspapers to turn over rocks and reveal facts that help set the public agenda in local communities, but most newspapers now lack the editing punch to launch such projects and bring them to successful completion,” Cross said.

It’s inspiring that the commitment to investigative journalism just keeps growing. Investigative Reporters & Editors has a record membership of nearly 6,000 and attracted a near record crowd of 1,775 to its annual conference in Orlando in June.

And, non-profits across the country are expanding their support of investigative work.

The Local Independent Online News Publishers organization recently awarded $25,000 divided among 18 of its member newsrooms to report investigative and enterprise stories important to their communities. That was funded by Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

It’s only one example of what’s underway.

Investigative Editing Corps envisions being able to work with newsrooms across all platforms to help them do investigative work. The important thing is that the work continues in local communities despite the losses that are underway.

Rose Ciotta is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative editor. She co-edited “Assault on Learning,” an investigation into violence in the Philadelphia schools that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She’s won awards for her work in small and medium sized print and local television. She’s a former board member of Investigative Reporters & Editors and a John S. Knight Journalism fellow. She’s currently the Associate Editor for EdSource, an education website.

Questions: Contact me at roseciotta@gmail.com