The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting launched six months ago with the announcement of a generous grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
While FCIR became a reality on Sept. 7, 2010, the work of building the organization began in late 2008. That effort included recruiting a board of directors, building relationships with media partners, writing grant proposals, and designing the website and business strategy.
From the beginning, our goal was to build a sustainable nonprofit organization committed to bilingual investigative journalism in Florida’s public interest. Given the significant cuts to watchdog reporting at news organizations statewide, we believe the need for FCIR has never been greater.
Since going live online, we’ve been energized by victories large and small. FCIR has reached Floridians in both English and Spanish through print, television, radio and the Internet, forged new partnerships with established and emerging media organizations, and experienced the monthly doubling of traffic to the website.
Among our accomplishments in six months:
- FCIR’s original investigations — including reports on Congressional lettermarking, virtual high schools and the immigration-enforcement program Secure Communities — have all aired on Florida’s NPR stations. “Security Breach” was republished by several community newspapers, including La Prensa in Orlando, Poder de Miami and Caribbean Today. “Virtually Worthless” inspired a partnership with Miami’s CBS4 that resulted in “I-Team: Flunking A High School Equivalency.”
- Blogger/reporter Ralph De La Cruz, a prize-winning journalist and columnist with more than 25 years of experience, has helped build FCIR’s online readership through insightful writing and reporting about Florida government and government officials. De La Cruz’s recent piece about the effort to recall Gov. Rick Scott spread like a virus online, and more than 1,000 Facebook users recommended the piece.
- FCIR has formed a reporting alliance with Florida’s NPR stations and works closely with WUSF in Tampa and WLRN in Miami. FCIR is also a member of the Public Media Interactive advertising network and the Investigative News Network, an association of nonprofit news organizations nationwide.
- In addition to a $100,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, FCIR has received project funding from the Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the Society of Environmental Journalists. We’re very proud that the Institute for Justice and Journalism awarded De La Cruz a fellowship that will help support his coverage of efforts to implement Arizona-style immigration enforcement in Florida.
- FCIR welcomed three new board members: Gregg D. Thomas, a Tampa lawyer who has defended newspapers and television stations in more than 100 cases; Matt Waite, the principal developer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact; and Jim Baltzelle, the Florida bureau chief and Caribbean sales manager for the Associated Press.
- Jessica De Leon, a journalism student at Florida International University in Miami, became FCIR’s first intern as part of a pilot program to train promising young journalists.
These accomplishments have attracted professional acclaim. The Columbia Journalism Review described FCIR as “a pioneer bilingual investigative nonprofit.” In addition, the investigation “Virtually Worthless” earned a special citation in investigative reporting in the Education Writers Association’s 2010 National Awards for Education Reporting.
As we move forward, we’ll produce in-depth investigations with an emphasis on data visualizations and multimedia presentation. We’ll also announce a new partnership that will bring together news organizations from around the state to provide more relevant content for you.
Over the next year, we’ll expand our internship program to the Tampa Bay area and increase our coverage of Tallahassee.
That’s the good news.
Sustainability remains FCIR’s most daunting challenge. In the long term, we cannot rely on national foundations for funding. Over the next two years, we must move our funding base to Florida foundations, philanthropists and individuals who believe in and support public service journalism for a state as big and diverse as Florida.
That’s where you can help FCIR. You can make a donation in any amount, or subscribe to our free newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support us by telling your local community foundations about our work and encourage them to fund journalism locally.
Our readers are critical to the future of FCIR. With you, we can build a community of engaged Floridians who are active in civic life and believe that government and government officials should be accountable in the Sunshine State.
You can help us do this by joining the conversation in the comments section of our stories, sharing our work with your friends and colleagues through e-mail and social networks, or telling us about the stories in your communities that we should be covering.
We believe FCIR is a news organization that partners with its readers. Please, join us in any way you can to show your support of our mission and work.