Five years on for Investigative Post

Today marks a milestone for Investigative Post: We celebrate our fifth year in business.

We launched with what turned out to be a prophetic story: an analysis of what was then a fledgling program known as the Buffalo Billion. I quoted experts offering advice on how to make smart use of the money and cautioning against the temptation of spending tax dollars to secure on trophy projects. I re-read the story a couple of months ago and it seems as though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done the opposite of what the experts recommended.

Investigative Post has built its reputation for relentless watchdog journalism in part through its ensuing coverage of the Buffalo Billion. Most notably, our reporting on the awarding of the contract to build the SolarCity factory in South Buffalo to LPCiminelli triggered a federal investigation that resulted in the indictment of nine people, including top state officials and developers with ties to Cuomo. The reverberations continue to be felt statewide.

Over these past five years we’ve broken a number of investigations that have had impact and been cited for excellence by the likes of Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Lead poisoning of inner-city children. Policing problems in Buffalo. Delays investigating child abuse complaints.  Pollution at a beach politicians wanted to open for public swimming. Sewage in Scajaquada Creek, followed by perhaps my favorite story we’ve produced for television.

In all, we’ve produced 83 investigations and scores of follow-up stories. The impact of this reporting has not been by accident.  We have two criteria in choosing stories to report on: We want to expose wrongdoing or explain an important issue, and in doing so, have a reasonable chance of making a difference. In other words, we want to have impact on issues that matter.

Of course, having an impact requires having an audience, and Investigative Post has built strong partnerships with WGRZ, WBFO, The Public and The Capitol Pressroom to help produce and distribute our work. These outlets, coupled with our website, enable us to reach up to 265,000 viewers, listeners and readers per story.

Our model makes a lot of demands on our reporters. They’ve got to produce stories for all the major platforms: television, radio, print and the web. I can tell you as a veteran of 31 years in the newspaper business that producing stories for all these platforms can be taxing at times, but Dan Telvock, Charlotte Keith and Daniela Porat have risen to the occasion. And I guess this old dog has learned a few new tricks, too.

Our journalism has been embraced by donors, big and small,  in appreciation of the costly, challenging work we do on behalf of the community. Our revenue has grown steadily over the years, to more than $318,000 last year through financial support from individuals, companies and foundations. At some point this year we’ll pass the $1 million mark in donations from more than 600 contributors since our launch.

There are more than 100 nonprofit news organizations operating around the county, most of them established over the past decade in response to the downsizing of newspaper newsrooms and the resulting reduction in public service journalism. Investigative Post has distinguished itself in a couple of ways: our partnerships, particularly our strong working relationship with WGRZ, and our focus on hard-hitting investigative reporting and the considerable impact it has had.

Investigative Post evolved beyond its start-up phase this past year as we added staff, gained support among donors and moved into a state-of-the-art newsroom.

Our challenge moving forward is two-fold.

First, we need to maintain and grow our base of financial supporters. As I like to say, in order to raise hell, we need to raise money. I want to continue to add reporters, and doing so requires money.

We must also operate in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile towards journalists. We’re seeing this play out at the national level with the rhetoric of Donald Trump, but the problem extends far beyond the White House, as both state and local governments double down on their efforts to thwart transparency. This poses a particular challenge to smaller news organizations like Investigative Post.

That said, I’m reminded of the adage, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog,” and by that standard, I can say with confidence that Investigative Post will continue to be a watchdog with bite.