After eight years as Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity, I am incredibly proud of the award-winning investigative work and the robust journalism institution I will leave behind when I step down this week.
In a digital era of tremendous disruption, the Center has not only weathered upheaval in the industry, but excelled with our own distinct brand of long-form investigative journalism based on data and documents. This signature work has brought about the largest audiences in our history, amazing impact from our reports and the widest distribution ever via hundreds of publishing partners worldwide.
I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the hard-working staff — our teams of dedicated reporters and editors, who daily make a reality of the Center’s central mission —To serve democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.
Looking back over these years, I’d like to cite seven specific accomplishments from which I’ve derived enormous satisfaction:
It is perhaps easiest to quantify our financial success. Having raised more than $50 million in the last eight years, I am pleased to report that The Center for Public Integrity is supported by as many as 50 different foundations and thousands of individual citizens who value our work. Thanks to their generosity, the Center today is a stable and highly efficient nonprofit investigative news organization. Fundraising will always be a challenge, especially for general support funds, but I am leaving behind commitments of $7 million, compared to the financial deficit I faced in my first days on the job.
The 25-year-old Center for Public Integrity is a well-respected, efficiently run nonprofit institution, with a professional staff of about 50 and an experienced, 20-member Board of Directors providing fiduciary oversight and strategic guidance. The Center now meets or exceeds the nonprofit accountability and transparency standards set by the nation’s top three watchdogs, Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Guidestar Exchange. I am proud to have helped institutionalize and strengthen this valued journalistic entity, building on the original brilliant idea, or “excellent adventure,” launched by Charles Lewis in 1989 as a kind of journalistic utopia for the best investigative work with the greatest public service impact.
Our international arm, ICIJ—the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—has been revitalized and is now backed by both domestic and international funding. ICIJ is flourishing as never before, with 185 member-journalists in 65 countries, publishing major investigations simultaneously in dozens of countries and different languages. Our work is based on significant leaks of data and documents, and has brought together the largest cross-border journalistic collaborations ever, resulting in stunning global reach and impact. ICIJ was almost moribund and without resources when I started here.
Our domestic investigative work has been focused on money and politics, the environment, national security, juvenile justice, health care, state corruption risks, financial regulation, and more. Whatever the project, however, the Center’s core operation has set a gold standard for rock solid, fact-checked and bulletproof investigations. (See related Ten Tenets below.) We have also maintained our nonpartisan, non-advocacy approach, drawing both praise and criticism from all sides of the political spectrum in almost equal measure.
Because of the depth and significance of many of the Center’s projects, their positive impact continues long after publication. For example, our year-long investigation into campus sexual assaults in 2009-10, has led to new U.S. Department of Education regulations and changed procedures at universities nationwide ever since. Our 2013 project on miners with black lung disease who were denied their just benefits has led to major changes at the Department of Labor. And our 2013-2014 international disclosures around tax havens and lack of global tax fairness are producing major reforms in the European Union and the G-20 nations.
With new investments in digital technology and staffing, the Center has moved from a largely static website in 2007 to a dynamic and colorful multimedia platform capitalizing on interactivity, data visualizations, documentary video, audio and other forms of visual journalism to bring our deep investigations to life, along with active social media and extensive distribution partnerships worldwide. We have further to go, of course, but I am pleased that our online contributions have grown with our audience and memberships, thanks to our devoted and hard-working team of digital journalists.
And, I’m pleased that the Center’s investigative work has been recognized in competitive awards competitions more than 150 times. In the last eight years, we have won 81 first place national and international awards, along with 68 more finalist recognitions and three special citations. We have won almost every major investigative award there is, from the Pulitzer Prize to the Goldsmith Prize, and from the George Polk Award to the White House Correspondents’ Association and Overseas Press Club Awards, and many, many others. I am grateful for this exceptional record as recognized by our professional peers, and even more grateful for the high quality of the work we have produced that has been so honored.
I leave with deep appreciation for the opportunity I have had to lead this irreplaceable investigative institution at a critical time in its history. I know that our watchdog work in transparency and accountability is essential for democracy to thrive. I believe we have been a force for fairness and safety in the public interest in a society where citizens are too often at a disadvantage against the powerful and sometimes hidden special interests and lobbies.
As for myself, it’s time to step back and reflect on my career in journalism, both as a reporter and as a news manager, leading newsrooms for the last 24 years at the Center as well as at NPR, and MPR/American Public Media.
I am delighted to have a period of transition and a chance to do research and write for the next four months at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. After that, I may consult with public radio stations and combine that work with more investigative journalism. I will be exploring all such possibilities in the year ahead. I will also be keeping an outsider’s eye on how I might be able help the new leadership at the Center for Public Integrity, so it will continue to succeed as it changes and adapts over the next 25 years.
Finally, I don’t think I can find any better words of admonition on my departure than those of Chuck Lewis when he wrote in his own farewell and thank you to the Center Staff in 2004:
“The Center must always maintain courageous, fearless ‘edginess’ and a willingness to expose abuses of power, from Presidents to multibillion dollar corporations. But edgy and compelling must also always accompany fair and accurate reporting at the Center for Public Integrity, and nothing beneath this standard should ever be published. There is no such thing as too careful when it comes to information gathering…”
“The stakes,” he wrote then, “are very, very high just as the opportunities to create high impact national and international journalism are extraordinary. Don’t ever let the bastards get you down or intimidate you. But also, don’t ever, in any way, enable them to diminish your credibility as a truth-teller.”
Thank you all.
Read more in Inside Publici
Multi-year series by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists wins business reporting award.
Analyzing Medicaid cost reports, self-reported nursing home staffing figures, legal testimonies and personal accounts to report a story.