The journalistic DNA of Investigative Post

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

I’ve had a quote from Carl Bernstein taped to the front of my computer terminal for the better part of 20 years that reads, “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”

They were words I worked by as I toiled at The Buffalo News and a mantra of sorts for my new venture, Investigative Post, non-profit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York.

I’ve never been a fan of the “he said, she said” brand of journalism practiced by many reporters and taken to its lowest form by pundits and other talking – or shall I say, “screaming” – heads on cable. That is, present two sides of the story – as though things are ever that simple – and let readers figure it out.

I always thought my job as a reporter was to figure it out – after all, I was the one with the time, training and resources – and provide readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This required me to do my homework, get things right and write with clarity – “telling it like it is,” in the words of Howard Cosell.

This is the mindset I will instill as I build the reporting culture at Investigative Post.

For right now, I’m more or less a one-man band, working with a small cadre of volunteers and board members to launch the venture. Once we’ve raised sufficient funds we’ll start hiring reporters and building an investigative beat structure, which will include a focus on government and politics, the economy and economic development, the environment and issues related to poverty.

In addition to producing investigative stories and analysis, Investigative Post will publish what I call “investigative features” that will post to our website. One that starts tomorrow is Joe Friday.

I’ll blog several times a week, building off the Outrages & Insights blog I wrote for The News.

The site will link to the work of Tom Toles, one of our board members. Tom, who won the 1990 Pulitzer Price for editorial cartooning while with The News, now works for The Washington Post. He not only draws, but blogs five days a week for the Post.

We’ll be rolling out a number of other features in the weeks and months ahead, all with an investigative and analytical bent. The objective is to post at least a couple of new items each day. In addition, we’ll be active in the social media sphere, posting regularly to Twitter and Facebook.

Our online presence is only a part of our distribution network. Our investigations and analyses will also be shared with WBFO, 88.7 FM and AM 970, the region’s National Public Radio outlets;  Artvoice and The Buffalo News. We expect to have a deal in place soon with a local television station, as well.

This network, coupled with our website and social media platforms, gives Investigative Post the broadest reach of any news organization in Western New York.

These collaborations are part of a new business model that is emerging in markets around the country. Media outlets, instead of competing, are collaborating.

This is borne in part out of economic necessity. Newspaper, television and radio stations have cut their newsroom staffs as their profits have declined. Investigative reporting is expensive and time consuming, and media outlets are doing less of it as a result. Some 50 non-profit investigative reporting centers have sprouted around the county, mostly in the past five years, to help fill the void. Investigative Post is the only such center in upstate New York.

In addition to partnering with media outlets, many investigative reporting centers are partnering with university journalism programs. Investigative Post has commitments to work with programs at St. Bonaventure University, the University at Buffalo and Medaille College, and is talking with several other schools.

To me, academia represents a deep pool of talent and expertise, one that we in the press are wise to tap. The Investigative Post will not only be working with journalism programs, but other academic departments to help produce top-flight research and help reporters sift through complicated issues.

I intend to extend this collaborative model into the community with crowdsourcing projects and volunteer research efforts, mindful they must meet rigorous quality standards.

Reporters have long worked as lone wolves, but in today’s networked world, it makes a lot of sense to have them collaborate with others who have the time and talent to compliment the skills a professional journalist brings to the table.

The end game is to produce compelling journalism. Buffalo and Western New York needs all it can get. As a former colleague once aptly put it, “Western New York is a natural wonder and a man-made disaster.”

Our so-called leaders are generally lacking. Government is consumed with self-preservation. Our economy is too rooted in yesterday. The environment is downright toxic in spots. Poverty is getting worse and the young and educated are fleeing for greener pastures.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This community has a future if it’s willing to fight for it.

I founded Investigative Post in the belief that the style of investigative reporting I’m trying to fashion, the type of of community institution I’m attempting to build, can make a difference.

In short, a lot can be gained by publishing “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Let’s get to it.