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U.S. fifty state corruption risk index: a way for greater influence in investigative reporting?

U.S. fifty state corruption risk index: a way for greater influence in investigative reporting?

Months, or even years, can go into the collecting of evidence and interviews for an investigative exposé. Once the story runs, the job of that reporter more or less ends, and s/he moves on to other pressing leads. From there, it's assumed (or at least hoped), that other public or private entities within society will accept the passing of the torch in addressing the wrongdoing revealed in the exposé. But, according to Neiman Journalism Lab, this is not so often the situation, resulting in a lot of effort expended in the building of an exposé case with potentially little outcome of measurable change.

A solution to this problem possibly lies in a new collaboration in the U.S. between the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International, and Global Integrity. The objective is to develop a mechanism that maintains the intensity and conscious awareness of investigative reporting, where issues are pursued by journalists assigned to the task and who can keep up with the consistent diligence required in the present media climate (where coverage of Charlie Sheen getting fired from "Two and Half Men" eclipses that of corruption in state government).

The mechanism is a fifty state corruption risk index, a kind of threat indicator that shows how susceptible each state is. No small task, according to the Neiman Journalism Lab, a journalist will be hired for each state to be on the ground reporting, compiling information for the index as well as writing stories. The key here, and what makes it different from standard newspaper investigative reporting, is the mechanism will be ongoing, transparent and accessible to the public. The idea is to have public participation in building the index, through crowdsourcing and joining a network that informs on respective state corruption. Public participation in this project, as well as having one reporter assigned to the perimeters of corruption within that state, will ideally help to keep the index operating at an ongoing rate.

"The idea here is that in recent years really good, solid investigative reporting on the state level has fallen off, and state newspapers have had to make cutbacks," says Caitlin Ginley, project coordinator for the Center for Public Integrity. "We see this as a great way to revitalize that."

A mechanism like this has been pursued before: the Center for Public Integrity released States of Disclosure in 2009, a fifty state ranking of financial disclosure laws for local legislators. According to Neiman Journalism Lab and Ginley, the idea is to build on that, using financial disclosure laws, conflict-of-interest laws, FOIA regulations, lobbyist rules, and other accountability standards as indicators of the likelihood of corruption.

"Reporters can take that information and see this is where [their state is] doing very poorly and report that out," says Ginley.

Global Integrity's role is to create a method and guide for analyzing the data that is indexed. Reporters will also be using Global Integrity's Indaba tool to collect and publish information. The idea is to emulate the delivery of results seen in States of Disclosure with report card grading and rankings, as well as background information from each state, Ginley says. Besides providing this information, the work to take place immediately (aside from hiring journalists- JOB ALERT) is identifying people and organizations at the local level who can be helpful over the course of the mechanism.

"We have the tools now for people to get engaged in stories as they go along and that creates a lasting commitment so its not a one-shot deal," said Michael Skoler, vice president of Interactive Media for Public Radio International.

By asking the public to crowdsource and become part of the network, the further intended outcome is to equip the respective journalist hired for each state with viable sources to rely on for tips and leads, says Skoler to Neiman Journalism Lab. Skoler is familiar with this concept, having established the Public Insight Network while working for American Public Media.

"The standard mode for investigative reporting is that people don't talk at all about what they're doing," adds Skoler.

Public Radio International's level of involvement will be working with its more than 800 partner stations to find expertise and build interest in the project over the next year. That way, when a report is produced, there is a built-in audience who can share it with others, all with the aim of circulating the report to reduce corruption in their state.

The aim of this outreach, in crowdsourcing and building a network, is to be targeted and clear (read: transparent) about the goal. "Crowdsourcing is about reaching out to the people who are naturally interested and knowledgeable about something and inviting them to play."

There are honest government/open government groups, think tanks, academics, and non-profits who exist at the state level, have a genuine interest in their state's corruption and could therefore be vetted candidates for assisting the project. According to Neiman Journalism Lab, Skoler thinks approaching these specific people and groups, unlike asking the general readership for help, could produce better results.

This approach could also help to increase the reach of investigative reporting. Instead of wishing that the results a journalist produces would be taken on by other appropriate public or private entities within society, the corruption index hopes to apply strategy to extending the shelf life of accountability journalism.

As Skoler puts it, "It's a new way of thinking about impact for investigative journalism--and about building impact in through a whole process."

Source: The Center for Public Integrity, Neiman Journalism Lab



Ashley Stepanek


2011-03-09 13:38

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