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The Center for Public Integrity is setting out to strengthen local investigative reporting across the country, through partnerships with local newsrooms designed to systematically exchange knowledge and provide ongoing support.

The initiative will prioritize news organizations serving communities that are traditionally under-resourced yet have the potential to produce groundbreaking stories exposing systemic inequalities affecting their audiences. It challenges the collapse of investigative journalism on the local level, where the financial woes of newspapers have left municipal officials and other power players largely unsupervised, leading to an increase in corruption, inefficiency, and abuse of power.

This initiative is funded by an initial $600,000 in grants from James B. McClatchy Foundation, Wichita Foundation, Knight Foundation, Reva and David Logan Foundation, and others. It involves hiring data journalists, training journalists in investigative techniques, developing equitable partnerships, and providing free access to more than 1.8 billion public records. 

Public Integrity’s goal is to be a learning partner for local investigative journalists who play a vital role in their communities, starting with a few partnerships then expanding nationwide.

“We’ve designed this initiative to intentionally build knowledge and provide ongoing support,” said Paul Cheung, Public Integrity CEO. “It’s a way to build local investigative capacity deliberately and cost-effectively, especially in places that never had it.”

Journalism’s watchdog role

The watchdog role of investigative journalists is crucial on the local level, where it can expose government corruption and other abuses of power, and provide accountability. Research has shown that when local newspapers close, local government hiring and spending expands, and the cost of financing goes up. What’s more, a local news vacuum leaves communities vulnerable to mis/disinformation, increased polarization, and a drop in civic engagement. 

A new approach

Up to now, most investigative journalists have learned the craft largely by osmosis, working with more experienced colleagues in newsrooms large enough to have investigative teams. But newspapers have been closing at an average rate of two per week since 2004, and many of those still open have shed their investigative teams. Community media outlets, for their part, have community trust but rarely the resources for investigation.

Public Integrity will be intentional about knowledge building. The initiative will provide continuous coaching, consultation, and access to Public Integrity’s resources to help partners improve their data and technical skills, develop data-rich local enterprise stories, and navigate the FOIA process. Public Integrity will also co-fundraise funds with partners to ensure sustainability of local investigative journalism. With additional funding, the initiative aims to offer mentorship for emerging investigative journalists. 

“Empowering local journalism is paramount in fortifying democracy. Public Integrity has devised an intentional and cost-effective approach to bolster local investigative reporting, ensuring that our investment yields the maximum impact possible,” said Courtney Bengtson, Chief Strategy Officer at The Wichita Foundation.

Strong Partnerships

In its initial stage, the local investigative initiative will support local news organizations by:

These strategies are supported by visionary funders such as James B. McClatchy Foundation, Knight Foundation, Reva and David Logan Foundation, Wichita Foundation and others who recognize journalism is essential to build informed and engaged communities, especially on the local level, so we can have a viable, participatory democracy. 

Collaboration is in our DNA

Public Integrity, one of the nation’s oldest nonprofit newsrooms, is built on collaboration. Its founder, Charles Lewis, would routinely give away the results of investigations so other news outlets could run with them. It has worked extensively with numerous national and local newsrooms over the years. For example, Public Integrity recently helped Fresnoland’s executive director and policy editor, Danielle Bergstrom, map out a story exposing a failure by regulators to consider pollution impacts from a planned highway expansion. 

“The story is making waves, EPA is already revisiting their position on the project and a lawsuit is getting filed by resident groups over the project,” Bergstrom said. “The Center for Public Integrity has provided essential investigative editing support when we needed it, sharpening a story to have an immediate impact on policymakers in our community.”

We asked local newsrooms what they need

The initiative was carefully designed. Over the past 18 months, Public Integrity has asked local news organizations around the country what obstacles they’ve faced in launching investigations, and what issues they’ve had in partnering with national organizations. They identified three major elements as lacking, and it shaped the initiative:

  1. Technology and data expertise: Groundbreaking investigations require technology and data expertise. Many local news organizations, particularly smaller nonprofits, lack the budget to afford a full-time data team, or the expertise to manage freelance data journalists.
  2. Apprenticeship: Unlike some professions, journalists are not required to have a journalism degree to practice. Many great journalists learn their craft through years of collaboration with veteran journalists  in their newsroom. With the continuous staffing cuts, institutional knowledge is often not transferred from one generation to another.
  3. Equitable partnership between national & local news organizations: Local newsrooms don’t have equal leverage when partnering with national news organizations. Too often, national media parachute into local communities to extract their insights and relationships for their stories without proper credit, clear collaboration agreements, or shared financial resources.

This is just the beginning of the journey, and the Center for Public Integrity looks forward to partnering with more diverse local news organizations, communities, and funders to build a better, more equitable future. Public Integrity Local is committed to improving the capacity of local news organizations to hold the powerful accountable, promote transparency, and foster informed civic engagement. 

If you want to learn more about our initiative, please contact Paul Cheung at

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.