Focusing anew on high-impact investigative reporting

We have a new mantra inside our newsroom: One.

One website. One brand. One newsroom. We are now The Center for Investigative Reporting – and only The Center for Investigative Reporting. Although it was tough to cut loose our local and statewide brand names, our commitment to public service journalism remains as strong as ever. And our growth continues. 

So how will these branding changes affect our story selection and the scope of our reporting?

First and foremost, we have rededicated ourselves to high-impact investigative reporting – stories that matter. We’ve largely stopped covering routine stories and breaking news, which got in the way of this core mission. Last year, we generated about 1,000 stories. By choice, we expect to produce about 200 stories this year. But the stories we go after will be the ones we think can make a difference.

We also are closely examining the scope of our stories.

Last year, about 95 percent of the stories generated out of this newsroom were either focused on the Bay Area or the state of California. That left a small fraction of our work focused on national or international issues or produced in a way that would appeal to an audience outside California’s borders.

We began 2013 with a new approach – to strike more of a balance among local, statewide and national/international storytelling. We think this balance is important to help CIR reach bigger and more targeted audiences while also building a stronger brand around investigative journalism.

We are working toward a healthier blend – in the ballpark of one-third local, one-third regional/statewide, and one-third national or international.

These changes actually began months ago. Beats were realigned and reporting strategies shifted on Jan. 1. We’re still covering many of the same issues – environment, education, law enforcement, government oversight and health – but we’ve fine-tuned our approach to find and tell California stories differently – with a goal of reaching broader national audiences.

Much of our work will continue to be rooted in California. It’s home to our staff. Our source network is largely here. And it’s a fascinating place.

When regional or statewide stories are conceived and pursued, we look for bigger opportunities to connect these stories to people and communities beyond our state. The same approach holds for stories that may be national in conception from the start. There, we look to make those stories highly relevant to Californians whenever possible. 

By its very nature, California often is a national story – and we’re going to take more advantage of that. Because California historically has given birth to social movements, new industries and innovations that change and impact the nation and the world, our local and regional stories can be relevant to national and even global audiences.

A perfect example is our coverage of the unfathomable wait times that veterans are forced to endure to get disability benefits. Reporter Aaron Glantz started detailing the plight of veterans with a hyper-local focus in Oakland before broadening out further and further into a national story. Glantz’s reporting has been cited by The New York Times, The Washington Post, “The Daily Show,” Stars and Stripes, CNN, PBS “NewsHour” and many others – and it has prompted congressional action and reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In January, Glantz was put on the veterans beat full time. And you can expect to see much more from him on the VA backlog in the months ahead. We’ve also added more reporting resources on the environment and business issues with an emphasis on Silicon Valley. Told right, stories that come out of any of these fertile areas will appeal to local, statewide and national audiences.

Some things won’t change at all. Our award-winning series Broken Shield, which exposed the injustices at California’s developmental centers, was written for a regional and statewide audience. Although it may have had appeal outside of California, it was meant for all Californians. We absolutely, emphatically, will be doing more stories such as this one.

The bottom line: We will let each story find its audience.

We set our priorities by emphasizing stories that haven’t been told – telling stories about problems that are quantifiable and, whenever possible, where something can be done to fix the problem. We choose stories we believe will resonate with readers, viewers and listeners. Ultimately, how we produce the story depends on the story itself. Does it have the kind of sweep to appeal to a national audience? Or are there enough local examples in different parts of the state or beyond that can help us craft a separate story tailored or targeted to a local audience? Are the characters vibrant enough to warrant a video or multimedia treatment? Most importantly, is it a new story and can it make a difference? There is no cookie-cutter approach to how we execute. And that’s what keeps it interesting.

We’ve built solid partnerships in the Bay Area, especially with the San Francisco Chronicle, NBC Bay Area and KQED. Around the state, we’ve developed a network of newspaper and TV partners including the Orange County Register, Bakersfield Californian and Riverside Press-Enterprise. Recently, we’ve begun to forge stronger partnerships with national brands, including CNN, Univision and The Daily Beast to name a few.

We have about 45 investigative journalistsreporters, editors, video producers, multimedia producers, Web producers and data analysts – all based in California. We are the only investigative organization in the country capable of producing in-house work for TV, radio, print and the Web.

We expect more of our work will play on a national stage – but almost all of it will hit home.

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