In 1977, long before the Internet gave new life to nonprofit media, Bay Area journalists David Weir, Dan Noyes, and Lowell Bergman founded the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in Oakland, CA. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to create investigative journalism that “sparks action, improve lives and protects our democracy”.
It did so initially by working primarily with other news outlets. A first major collaboration was a 1978 exposé by Kate Coleman and Paul Avery regarding the Black Panther Party and its involvement in organized crime, including murder. Since then, CIR has produced deep investigations about all sectors of society, for example:
“Reasonable Doubt” (with CNN), a 2007 investigation into poor quality controls at forensic crime labs
“Dirty Business”, a 2009 documentary about the myth of clean coal
“The God Loophole”, a 2016 investigation of abuse at religious daycare facilities
CIR has received numerous journalism awards, including a Peabody, and the organization was a finalist for a Pulitzer prize in 2012 for its investigation of earthquake safety of California schools.
This focus on wrongdoing in any part of society makes it similar to the younger, NYC-based ProPublica, and indeed, in many ways, CIR is its West Coast counterpart. The two organizations had nearly the exact same amount of revenue in 2014 ($10,324,242 vs. $10,324,275) and draw funding from similar sources, primarily foundations and major gifts.
Unlike ProPublica, CIR does not provide a breakdown of its revenue by source, but it does provide a list of supporters, which includes Gates, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Open Society Foundations, Hewlett, MacArthur, Knight, and many of the other big names in philanthropy. An editorial independence policy is meant to make it clear that such support does not influence reporting.
One notable difference between the two is executive compensation. CIR pays its Executive Director a total of $232K, while ProPublica’s highest compensated “co-executive” makes $429K. CIR does not publish an Annual Report, but it does use an open source impact measuring tool to produce whitepapers documenting the real world effects of some of its most notable investigations.
As an older organization, CIR had to transform itself for the Internet. It now publishes its investigations on Reveal, which features in-depth reporting, podcast episodes, videos, and occasional data journalism. The grouping of investigations (e.g., “Hidden abuses under the watchtower” for its Jehovah’s Witnesses investigation) makes the current focus areas reasonably clear.
While it utilizes text, audio and video for its reporting, in many other respects, Reveal is very old school. There is no commenting system, content is under conventional copyright (as opposed to a Creative Commons License), and the heading “Get involved” only leads to an ask for donations.
As with ProPublica, the universal search for abuse (and the heavy reliance on conventional funding) can make it harder to address system-level issues such as inequality, climate change, electoral injustice, or mass incarceration. Efforts like CIR’s are therefore no substitute for values-driven journalism that provides consistent emphasis on systemic injustice.
On the other hand, the Center’s investigations into all sectors of society do help people to learn about (and act on) abuse and wrongdoing within their communities. On that basis, I recommend following Reveal, and the feed is now part of the Twitter list of quality nonprofit media. 4 out of 5 stars.