Heaney’s background includes six years with the Orlando Sentinel as a reporter and editor, and 25 years with The Buffalo News as an investigative reporter. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1993.
After taking a buyout last August, Heaney said he still had an itch to do investigative journalism. When he was 23, he started his own weekly paper and now, he wanted to start on a similar venture again. “I’m 56, so it was now or never,” he said.
By September, Heaney was securing a website, exploring funding options, and forming partnerships with other media outlets. Today, his site is live; he projects an estimated annual budget of $400,000 to $500,000 once everything is fully up and running. His current partners include local NBC affiliate and Gannett-owned WGRZTV and Artvoice, the region’s alternative newsweekly. He also shares content with two local radio stations and his former employer, the Buffalo News.
“Jim brings in his experience,” said Jeff Woodard, WGRZ-TV news director. “He knows the issues of western New York and the players for each story.”
Woodard said by combining Heaney’s old-school journalism background with digital media, watchdog journalism can be kept alive. “Our goal is to become the leader in investigative reporting. By adding Jim to our team, it ups the game more for us.”
Heaney has also partnered with local universities including St. Bonaventure University, University of Buffalo, and Medaille College. He has plans to set up internships and guest lectures as well as to create “network beats” where his reporters can work with experts in academics.
Although Heaney currently operates as a one-man band, he has a board of directors that includes veteran reporters and a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. He expects to hire four more full-time reporters this year, as well as a multimedia production team.
Heaney’s biggest challenge so far is making people aware of the site. “I have to put faith in growing my brand,” he said. “I want to make sure good stories get the attention and that I get our work in front of a broad audience.” His goal includes expanding across upstate New York.
Investigative centers have only been around for the last five years, Heaney said, but he feels media collaborations will continue to grow. “For print, investigative reporting is the most expensive and time-consuming, so we’re seeing less of it, and we have less people doing it. Centers can help fill part of the gap… (Collaborations) are an economic necessity, and it makes more sense to work with each other.”