Carrie Levine appreciates the space to do investigative reporting that produces the definitive look at a topic and shifts the framing of a debate that has real-world impact on people’s lives.
Levine joined the Center for Public Integrity in October 2014 and reports on the influence of money in politics, voting rights and other issues around access to democracy. Before joining Public Integrity, she was the research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit nonpartisan watchdog group. She previously reported for The National Law Journal, the Charlotte Observer, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., and The Sun of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Her work has been recognized with Edward R. Murrow National Awards, Editor & Publisher EPPY Awards and Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Pro Chapter Dateline Awards, among others. In 2020, she was the lead reporter on Public Integrity’s Barriers to the Ballot Box series, which was a finalist for the 2021 Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting.
In 2021, Levine has reported on a slew of new voting laws in the states and redistricting in Arizona, finding that hundreds of public comments submitted to Arizona’s independent redistricting commission echoed calls to action boosted online by Republican political figures and conservative social media pages that promoted the Arizona Senate’s controversial review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
We asked about her career and recent experiences in the job:
What inspired you to become a journalist? What keeps you inspired?
I’ve always loved having a job that lets me learn about the world. I get to ask questions about why things work the way they do. When something doesn’t seem right or fair, I can dig into it and find out why. What’s better than that?
In its best and highest form, journalism informs the public and holds the powerful accountable. We explain why the world works the way it does. We exist because some people are more powerful than others, and we watchdog on behalf of the public interest. I can’t think of anything more important or necessary.
Like many investigative journalists, you got your start working as a reporter at local newspapers. How did that prepare you for the kind of work you do today?
Working for local papers taught me how to report on stories that really matter to people’s everyday lives — what’s happening in their schools, their towns, how their tax dollars are spent. It also taught me how to work a beat and do more than one thing at once. It was absolutely essential training for covering national and political beats, when it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters to people and start viewing politics as a game instead of something that shapes the public’s choices. Voters elect people to represent their interests in Washington, not the interests of a political party or to feather cronies’ nests, and local newspapers taught me to keep that public interest front and center every day. It also taught me that most people really are trying to do the right thing, and they rely on reporters to call out the folks who aren’t.
What makes Public Integrity different from news organizations that do more daily coverage and breaking news?
It’s an interesting question we’re always talking about in the newsroom.
I believe our strength lies in reporters with expertise reporting deeply on complicated subjects, including the influence of money on politics and voting access. We’re able to delve deeply into investigations of powerful systemic forces that contribute to inequality, and at our best, we have the sophistication, time and experience to break new ground and move past superficial coverage. Our most powerful investigations reframe the debate and resurface time and time again as the definitive work on whatever it is we’re writing about.
I also think we prioritize showing our work — transparently sharing the data, documents or reporting that leads us to investigative conclusions. Many people don’t trust the media right now, and I think it’s important to be as open as possible about our work.
Are there any projects you worked on or led at Public Integrity that were particularly meaningful for you?
Please don’t ask me to pick! There have really been too many over the years and they’ve all been meaningful in some way. I’ve had the privilege of teaming up with really wonderful colleagues on important stories over the years, exposing powerful forces and prompting change, and I can’t just choose one.
For the sake of naming something recent, I will say that this year, I really enjoyed reporting a long narrative piece on a new voting law in Kentucky, a red state that bucked trends by expanding access to the ballot. I wrote about how the law came together and won support from prominent Republicans in the Bluegrass State. I wanted to understand why things played out differently in Kentucky than in the rest of the country when it came to voting laws this year, and to understand whether the state could be a model for others.
It was a different kind of story to get to do — one about solutions and compromise, rather than wrongdoing, but one that shed light on forces at play around the country — and I really appreciate that my editor, Jamie Smith Hopkins, supported the idea and the work.
Because Public Integrity is a nonprofit that doesn’t accept advertising or charge readers for our journalism, we rely in a significant way on donations from readers. What’s your pitch for why people reading this should support Public Integrity’s work?
Look, we’re out here to get to the truth and produce unique journalism that explains why the world is the way it is — the powerful systemic forces at work that make things harder for some people than others, that stack the deck.
We report to serve the public interest. Everyone should support that. Because if we can’t do that work, where does that leave all of us?
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