NewsHigh

Capitol News Bureau Launched in Virginia

Monday, June 21st, 2010

 

Virginia now has a fresh set of eyes and ears covering Virginia state government with the launch of the Virginia Statehouse News Bureau (VSN). VSN is a group of seasoned and talented journalists covering issues of importance to Virginians. VSN is a product of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a national nonprofit journalism organization.

“The emergence of the Virginia Statehouse News Bureau is a direct response to the recent cutbacks by cash-strapped news organizations and the gaping hole in capitol news coverage,” said Franklin Center President Jason Stverak. “With the decreasing media presence at state capitols fewer media watchdogs are working to keep our elected officials and bureaucrats accountable. The journalists at VSN are experienced and dedicated and will fill the void in Virginia capitol news coverage.”

The VSN staff includes managing editor Scott Reeder and Virginia Statehouse news bureau chief Seth McLaughlin. Old Dominion Watchdog reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham and reporter Elizabeth Hillgrove will also be contributing to the website. Reeder has been a newspaper reporter and editor for 22 years. He covered the Illinois Legislature for a chain of newspapers for 10 of those years and captured more than 20 national journalism awards. McLaughlin’s work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Diplomat and World Politics Review. Prior to joining Virginia Statehouse News, he worked as a freelancer in Washington, D.C., covering national and international politics. Before that, he worked for nearly three years as Virginia bureau chief for The Washington Times and as a reporter at The Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

VSN operates under a “steal our stuff” model. Meaning that their mission to supply robust, far reaching coverage of state house and government news, and they encourage broadcasters, media organizations & citizen journalists to utilize their content.  VSN will share its reports in audio, video and text formats through the internet, new media and traditional mediums such as newspapers and radio. To view Virginia Statehouse News content visit virginiastatehousenews.com.

Virginia Statehouse News Bureau
is an initiative of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Founded in January of 2009, The Franklin Center is a nonpartisan organization that believes that new technology can advance the cause of transparency in government. The Franklin Center aims to educate, to advise and to train individuals and organizations from all backgrounds to become thorough, unbiased and responsible reporters well versed in new media techniques and journalistic integrity. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.

For more information, please visit FranklinCenterHQ.org

New Investigative Watchdog Site Launched In Maine

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010


Maine now has a new Watchdog relentlessly working to detect and expose corruption in our elected and public officials. Lead by journalist Stephan Burklin, MaineWatchdog.org covers the local and state news in Maine. MaineWatchdog.org is an independent venture of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a non-profit organization committed to rigorous journalism.

“Stephan Burklin is a dedicated journalist who will turn MaineWatchdog.org into a must read news website for the state of Maine,” said Jason Stverak, President of the Franklin Center. “MaineWatchdog.org will provide accurate, nonpartisan, and thorough investigative pieces that will provide the people of Maine a better understanding of their government and their elected officials.”

MaineWatchdog.org is a journalistic endeavor promoting transparency and accountability at the state and local levels. MaineWatchdog.org provides in-depth investigative reporting in a non-partisan manner.

Stephan Burklin is an investigative reporter for MaineWatchdog.org.  He has worked for the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation in Berlin, Germany, the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado, as well as for Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, Oregon.  His articles have been featured in The Oregonian and The Denver Post.  He graduated with honors from Wheaton College (IL).

MaineWatchdog.org is an independent initiative of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Founded in January of 2009, The Franklin Center is a nonpartisan organization that believes that new technology can advance the cause of transparency in government. The Franklin Center aims to educate, to advise and to train individuals and organizations from all backgrounds to become thorough, unbiased and responsible reporters well versed in new media techniques and journalistic integrity. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org

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For more information, please visit FranklinCenterHQ.org

Franklin Center Reporter Awarded Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship

Monday, May 24th, 2010


Washington, DC – The Phillips Foundation announced the recipients of the 2010 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program, which included Bill McMorris, a staff researcher and writer at the Franklin Center for Government and Public integrity. The Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program awards grants to working print and online journalists to undertake and complete projects of their own choosing, focusing on journalism supportive of American culture and a free society.

“Bill is a talented reporter who has proven to produce quality, unbiased, and accurate journalistic pieces. Bill’s terrific work on the phantom congressional district story was the driving force behind breaking that story to the mainstream media” said Jason Stverak President of the Franklin Center. “This award is a great accomplishment for Bill and we at Franklin Center are proud to have him on our staff.”

Bill McMorris’s fellowship title is “Fraud by any Other Name: Public Pension Neglect and the Coming Panic.”

McMorris is currently a staff researcher and writer at the Franklin Center. A print journalist by training, he has written for the Santa Barbara News-Press, National Review Online and the National Journalism Center. While in Santa Barbara, Mr. McMorris produced a wide range of investigative work. His on-site coverage of a November 2008 wildfire revealed that the city had lost nearly ten times more homes than the fire department initially told the public. He also investigated charges of power abuse against the city’s police chief, as well as pay increases at the District Attorney’s Office following a series of lay-offs. McMorris was educated at Cornell University where he majored in government and history.

The Phillips Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 to advance the cause of objective journalism. The Foundation established its journalism fellowship program to provide annual grants for journalism projects supportive of American culture and a free society. The fellowship program is open to print and online journalists with less than 10 years of professional experience. The Foundation seeks applicants who share its mission to advance constitutional principles, a democratic society, and a vibrant free enterprise system.

The Foundation awards $75,000 and $50,000 full-time fellowships and $25,000 part-time fellowships. The winners devote themselves to a yearlong writing project which they propose as part of their application.

About The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

The Franklin Center is a non-profit group dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with the training, expertise and technical support necessary to pursue journalistic endeavors. By networking with state-based think tanks, local non-profits, and independent Watchdog reporters across the country, the Franklin Center works against the growing tide of mediocrity and bias in the media and punditry of alternative online sources.  The Franklin Center undertakes programs that promote investigative reporting and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence and abuse of public trust by elected officials. The Franklin Center is also a proud sponsor of Watchdog.org and Statehouse News Bureaus.

Franklin Center’s Take on ProPublica’s Pulitzer

By
Monday, April 19th, 2010

Franklin Center’s Take on ProPublica‘s Pulitzer

By Jason Stverak

CHICAGO (April 19, 2010) — ProPublica’s Pulitzer Prize win shows two things:

1. Nonprofit journalism organizations are producing quality, accurate, unbiased, real investigative pieces that are changing the way citizens get news;

2. Investigative journalism is not dead nor is its massive decline at traditional journalism outlets a sign of a waning interest by the public.

Investigative journalism, the most effective weapon of the press, all but disappeared from newsrooms. Many traditional newsrooms no longer have the staff or financial resources to send a reporter across town, let alone cross country, to investigate a story. As such newspapers are curbing reporters’ ability to spend the time and money to investigate difficult stories in addition to covering their daily beats.

The staggering statistics related to the decline of journalism jobs are signs of the changing nature of journalism. According to The Nation, of the 60,000 print journalists employed in 2001 at least 10,000 lost their jobs while newspaper circulation dropped 7 percent. An American Journalism Review study found that only 355 full-time newspaper reporters still cover state capitols and 44 statehouses have fewer full-time reporters than they did six years ago.

The journalism crisis became evident when newsrooms were forced to slash staff and resources as local and regional media pushed for higher margins only to see revenues flatten, then decline, then crash.

The combined power of the rise and sophistication of search engines like Google and the increased ease and accessibility of blogs and bloggers has provided a medium and market for this new generation of would-be news gathers. Along the way, niche publications launched and investigative work increasingly drifted to the faceless, zero-cost herd of anonymous online contributors. At least that was true on the national stage. In state capitals and on regional beats, the public continued to lean heavily on local reporting that spoke in terms they could understand and in a manner consistent with what they had come to expect and identify as dependable news.

Until relatively recently, these local papers had experienced staffs and the wherewithal to invest the time, energy and resources needed to chase down a story wherever and to whomever it led. And once they had a story in their hands, these papers had the confidence in themselves and their standing in the community to tell it fairly, objectively and without fear or favor. However, the recent degradation of the national, mainstream press gradually trickled down to its respected regional counterparts – depriving these outlets of financial and human capital in service of marshaling all available resources to save the leaders in their field.

But as traditional media outlets experienced dark days, it soon became apparent that the reanimation of journalism is in new online news ventures. The blogosphere is no longer just for the ranting ideologues. Increasingly, straight-shooting professional journalists are leaving newsrooms and joining online non-profit journalism organizations. These organizations give journalists the opportunity to investigate stories and reemerge as the legendary beat reporters from yesteryear. By decentralizing the news business, investigative reporters for online nonprofits are creating quality coverage of America’s most important issues.

ProPublica is a terrific example of the success that comes out of investigative nonprofits. Another success story is the emergence of a series of state-based watchdog groups that are reporting on local, investigative news around the country. These watchdogs are showing that online news websites can churn out substantive investigative pieces, which have included stories on voter fraud, taxpayer abuse, political corruption.

Watchdog.org, an initiative of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, is responsible for highlighting numerous important national, regional, state and local stories since its creation in September 2009. It was a citizen reporter in New Mexico who broke the “Phantom Congressional District” story about the chaos in tracking American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. A Watchdog in Texas recently discovered that the Department of Homeland Security lost nearly 1,000 computers in 2008. And it was a Watchdog in Nebraska who uncovered that their state’s educators were using taxpayer-funded credit cards to purchase a first class plane tickets to China for $11,000.

Nonprofit journalism organizations are providing journalists from all over the nation an opportunity to investigate and report on the stories that matter. By utilizing technology and the internet, nonprofit journalism organizations have the potential to extend their audience reach and create a community of loyal readers. With specific targets, commitment to using highly trained and professional journalists, and novel strategic approaches to using and distributing resources, online nonprofits are the future of journalism.

Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.

Illinois Statehouse News Project a National Finalist for SPJ Award

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Springfield, IL – A project spearheaded by Illinois Statehouse News (ISN) has been named a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Mark of Excellence Award.

ISN successfully partnered with journalism students from Columbia College in Chicago to undertake a four-month investigation into the scandal-plagued General Assembly Scholarship Program.

The project delved into the century-old program that allows legislators to award scholarships, many of which, ISN discovered, were directed to the children of the recommending lawmakers’ campaign contributors. The investigation also revealed that the scholarship students and their parents were solicited, not only for additional campaign donations, but to assist in campaign work by marching in parades and going door-to-door on behalf of their benefactor lawmaker. Soon after the series was published, both the Illinois House and Senate have passed bills seeking to reform or eliminate the scholarship program.

“This award is a remarkable accomplishment for ISN and the students at Columbia College,” said Scott Reeder, a national managing editor for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. “These students contributed countless hours to finding the truth and their work deserves this recognition.”

The Mark of Excellence award is annually presented to the best in student journalism. The awards offer categories for print, radio, television and online collegiate journalism. The ISN/Columbia College project earned first place in an online journalism category in the SPJ Region 5 competition, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Entries are first judged on the regional level, and first place winners are forwarded on to the national competition. National winners will be honored at the 2010 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas.

ISN is an initiative of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.  Dedicated to exposing waste, fraud, and abuse at all levels of government, the Franklin Center networks with journalists and organizations covering the daily activities of state government and continues our work holding elected and public officials accountable to the people.

For more information, please visit FranklinCenterHQ.org

About The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

The Franklin Center is a non-profit group dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with the training, expertise and technical support necessary to pursue journalistic endeavors. By networking with state-based think tanks, local non-profits, and independent Watchdog reporters across the country, the Franklin Center works against the growing tide of mediocrity and bias in the media and punditry of alternative online sources.  The Franklin Center undertakes programs that promote investigative reporting and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence and abuse of public trust by elected officials. The Franklin Center is also a proud sponsor of Watchdog.org and Statehouse News Bureaus.

Non-profits beat government subsidy of news

By
Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

By Jason Stverak

Every day, more and more newspapers are forced to shut their doors, leaving communities around the nation at a loss for quality news coverage. Many have suggested that government subsidies are the solution, but government intervention will create greater problems than the struggling newspaper business is currently enduring.

This is especially true when better alternatives already exist from non-profits.

We all know that the government can be tremendously helpful to the American people. But when that help would do more harm than good, as in proposed subsidy of the newspaper business, America must say No!

Yes, newspapers need help. Yes, their recent decline puts our republic at risk. However, throwing government subsidies will not save them. In fact, expanded government influence on journalism would be disastrous to the reputation and credibility of journalists.

If government subsidizes news, journalists no longer will be able to report credibly on stories that matter to the people, but ultimately only on what matters to officials. Journalists will ignore scandal and corruption for fear of losing government funds. They will become political flacks and write to appease government instead of investigating it.

The only way for newspapers to flourish in difficult times is to accept that they must move news practices into the 21st century and integrate work of non-profit journalism organizations. These provide journalists from all over the nation opportunity to investigate and report on stories that matter. Through technology and the Internet, non-profit journalists gain potential to extend audience reach and create new communities of readers.

A unique and beneficial aspect of non-profit journalism is allowing – even encouraging — traditional media to use content for free. This provides news consumers with investigative journalism at no cost to publishers. Newspapers can run stories they no longer have staff or money to cover.  In addition to private financial benefit, there is the public benefit of giving readers important stories.

These days breaking national news no longer requires a press badge or credentials.

In November, millions of Americans learned of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity when Jim Scarantino, New Mexico Watchdog at the Rio Grande Foundation, broke the “Phantom Congressional Districts” stimulus story. He was the first to find that recovery.gov listed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act jobs created in congressional districts that do not exist. That led to discovery of more than 440 phantom districts nationwide and hearings on Capitol Hill. A wide array of traditional and 21st Century media picked up the story. The Colbert Report even refashioned its popular “Better Know a District” into a new segment, “Know Your Made-Up District.” This is just one example of non-profit journalist breaking big stories.

Throwing subsidies at newspapers is only a short-term fix, at best, that would compromise the news industry and do irreparable harm. The reanimation of journalism arises in new online news ventures, not government intervention.

Jason Stverak is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing reporters, citizens and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.

Survey: Newspaper Web Sites Still Top Source for Local Info But Competition is Closing In

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

By Jennifer Saba

Editor and Publisher
NEW YORK More people go to newspapers Web sites for complete local information than any other source, according to a new survey from the Newspaper Association of America and comScore. Of the more than 3,000 adults surveyed, 57% chose newspaper Web sites as the top source for local information.

The survey was conducted by comScore in November 2009 and is based on a nationally representative sample of adults who use Web sites within the comScore panel.

Read More

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Analysis – Where Do Stories Come From?

By
Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Many of us turn to social media to get the latest updates from our friends, reconnect with those we have lost touch with, or be entertained during a slow work day. But for many reporters, social media is now serving a vital function by being media sources when researching stories.

According to a national survey of journalists, conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University, 89% said they utilize blogs for research purposes, 65% use social media sites like Facebook, and 52% use microblogging sites like Twitter. In addition, 61% of reporters use online encyclopedias, mainly Wikipedia. But is this new trend in journalism a dangerous development for fact checking or just a new use for the popular social media?

While sites like Twitter and Facebook provide a forum for millions to voice their grievances and rant about whatever is on their mind, numerous blogs and social media feeds have become trusted sources of information from organization  like Watchdog.org, Huffington Post, The Daily Caller, and many others.  These types of organizations that have a fact checking system already in place make their social media feeds a smarter choice to pick from. However, the reporters surveyed know that solely relying on social media as a source is not a reliable way to produce stories.  According to the survey, 84% said social media sources were “slightly less” or “much less” reliable than traditional media, while 49% say social media suffers from “lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards.”

Another interesting aspect of this survey is what type of journalist uses social media and blogs more often for research. The survey concluded that journalists who spend most of their career writing for websites reported using social media the most often (69%) while magazine writers only turned to the online and social media only 48%.

So why does this study matter and how will social media influence journalism in the future? The simple answer is that this study shows that reporters using social media as a crutch to do their jobs. Reporters are looking to the various social media platforms as a necessary tool to be more effective, efficient, and thorough. With this, reporters are going to grab sources and contacts from a variety of walks of life to improve coverage and quality of their stories.

This study also gives websites like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs additional credibility and will increase their staying power and purpose. If Facebook is viewed as more than a purely entertainment escape, additional resources and reluctant subscribers are more likely to join to be a part of the social media movement.

Lastly, this study reiterates the power that online journalism organizations have in a world that is now more accepting of online news ventures. With more and more people getting their news from the internet, this study shows that reporters and news consumers alike are turning to alternative sources to get information.

Although no one knows the next social media website that will dominate the conversation, one thing is sure – social media is only growing in popularity and utility.

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Obama Admin Launches Agency Web Sites to Boost Transparency

Friday, February 12th, 2010

By SARA GOODMAN of Greenwire
New York Times

A trio of federal agencies has launched new Web sites to comply with President Obama’s Open Government directive.

U.S. EPA posted a new Web site that links to several of its databases on water quality, toxic releases and enforcement activity; the Interior Department has its own site that encourages public participation and talks about transparency; and the Energy Department is encouraging a “national conversation on energy.”

Obama announced the Open Government directive in December in an attempt to increase transparency within federal agencies.

The directive requires that by April 7, each federal agency must develop an “Open Government Plan” that includes in downloadable form “high-value information,” as well as high-value information that is not yet publicly available and specific target dates for making that material public. The agencies must also include the public in their plan development.

Read More at NY Times

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Reuters: Geithner backs proposal for improved Fed transparency

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Reuters

WASHINGTON, Feb 4  – U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a Senate panel on Thursday he supports proposals to improve transparency for the Federal Reserve.

“But respectfully not to threaten the independence of it and not to limit the Fed’s capacity to do the essential thing in future crises,” the secretary told the Senate Budget Committee.

Lawmakers are considering opening the Fed’s monetary policy decision-making to congressional reviews. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed have resisted that change, saying such audits would result in political pressure on Fed interest rates decisions. (Reporting by Nancy Waitz; Editing by Theodore d’Afflisio)