Investigative journalism has the capacity to change the world for the better, but to do so is incredibly expensive work. To expand their commitment to investigative reporting, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate have launched the Louisiana Fund for Investigative Journalism with the intention to utilize the funds to double the size of their investigative unit and expand coverage statewide. The initiative was created with the help of a Facebook Journalism Project grant.
“We want to make the state a better place, and we think the best way to start with that is to really shine a light on our problems,” said Gordon Russell, managing editor for investigations. “Secondarily, we were concerned about that fact that so much of Louisiana—just like a lot of the country—is becoming a news desert…somebody needs to bring scrutiny to these forgotten corners of the state.”
The goal is to raise $1.5 million in three years in order to hire a data journalist, two reporters and a deputy editor. The investigative unit includes Russell and three reporters: John Simerman, Andrea Gallo and Bryn Stole, who recently left for the Baltimore Sun (The Times-Picayune and the Advocate are in the process of filling this position).
The idea formed last year when Russell and editors at The Times-Picayune and The Advocate began exploring the idea of journalism supported by philanthropy. They hired The Jones Group (an outside fundraising consultant) and drew up a few proposals to expand different areas of coverage. They spoke with philanthropists to see which idea they would be most willing to fund, and investigative journalism was the winner, Russell explained. At that point, they joined a Local Media Association’s Center for Journalism Funding Lab, which is designed to develop this sort of model.
The fund will be administered by The Greater New Orleans Foundation. The news organization announced it last December, and within a month, they had raised nearly $15,000. But the amount could change as philanthropists have not yet made contributions.
The next steps will be to continue raising funds until they are comfortable enough to begin the hiring process. Once the hires are complete, the new unit can begin to tackle their list of issues, Russell explained. Past investigative pieces have centered on topics like self-serving government officials or tax incentive giveaways to insiders dealing in the state prison system.
“The events of the last few years just show (investigative journalism’s) importance more than ever,” Russell said. “We’re living in a world where there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there and people are having a hard time differentiating it…I think it’s really important that we have factual information disseminated as widely as possible.”
For more information about the fund, visit investigate.nola.com.