Photos by Lisa Munkeby

Tim Munkeby is an advisory committee member of The Reporters Inc. To learn more about him, click here.

Cracks in the Foundation

Public Education Is Rapidly Crumbling; How Do We Fix It?


May 2019

BY TIM MUNKEBY

As I start writing this, it strikes me that I should impress you with my credentials so that you’ll decide it’s worth your time to read on. For example, I just finished reading an article about why democracy will prevail. The writer points out he spent years on American warships around the world protecting democracy, and became an admiral. I’m not sure how qualifying the warship credentials are, but that admiral sounds admirable—and so you might think he’s worth a listen.

I’m sorry to say I’ve never been on a warship—but, I’ve kayaked a lot. I have no ivory tower credentials, but my tower (ok – upstairs dormer) in which I’m writing this overlooks a beautiful lake. More to the point, I’ve actually taught kids to write and to enjoy reading, adults to succeed financially and otherwise, and I lecture at colleges and universities. I’ve had three books published and a fourth—The Advocate (a novel illustrating the need and struggle to educate kids early in their lives)—is currently percolating in literary agents’ mailboxes. (Any of you agents interested?) Since I’ll be writing here about education, these qualifications may seem more pertinent than kayaking. Maybe. Maybe not.

Oh, and I’ve attained a piece of the American dream. Not to sound pretentious—well, I suppose a little—but, as I just mentioned, I’m looking out over a gorgeous body of water, called LakeVermilion (named one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in North America by National Geographic). My home is here, a tasteful 1880s-style Cape Cod tucked into the northern Minnesota pines, with five grey-clad shake cabins for each of my kids and their families for their visits.

My wife, Mary, and I achieved this on our own. I made a decent living selling women’s shoes while in college. Paid for college ourselves. No loans. Took a decrease in earnings, as a matter of fact, to leave shoesales and go into teaching. Seriously. Although we started out in a trailer, we eventually captured our American dream and ended up here at this sky-blue waters lake. That’s all gotta be worth something?

So, for what it’s worth, those are my credentials. I hope they’re enough to interest you in continuing to read (assuming you’ve read this far). (more…)

Bill Birnbauer was a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He is a long-standing member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a former John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, and an adjunct senior lecturer in journalism at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia where he’s based. Birnbauer is the author of the new book The Rise of NonProfit Investigative Journalism in the United States.

Staying Alive

Nonprofit journalism grows and struggles simultaneously


April 2019

BY BILL BIRNBAUER

In downtown San Francisco, Mother Jones’s CEO Monika Bauerlein is grappling with the final fact checking of an investigative story about the President’s financial dealings.

In New York City, the Marshall Project’s editor-in-chief Bill Keller is choreographing a partnership with the Los Angeles Times that will assess the impact of reduced incarceration on crime rates.

At the Wall Street end of Manhattan, ProPublica’s president Dick Tofel is surprised and delighted at the rapid growth in the number of individual donors to his organization.

And in FairWarning’s one-room office in Pasadena, California, founder and editorial director Myron Levin is figuring out his next move in a bid to extract documents relating to enforcement programs operated by the U.S. Labor Department.

These journalists are part of an expanding sector of accountability journalism in the United States that operates under a nonprofit business model. Unlike commercial media that are funded by advertising and subscriptions, nonprofit news sites depend on grants from foundations, wealthy supporters, and, to a lesser extent, individual donors and fundraising activities.

The nonprofit investigative and public service journalism sector grew rapidly after the 2007–2009 global financial crisis that devastated commercial media revenues, leading to the loss of tens of thousands of journalism jobs and concern over the future of quality journalism. Since then, the nonprofit news sector has continued expanding, matured, and contributed to democratic processes well beyond its size.

The Institute for Nonprofit News, an association whose members (including The Reporters Inc.) are nonprofit investigative and public interest news organizations, has nearly 200 member organizations across the U.S. after being founded in 2009 with just 27 members. More than 100 of the institute’s nonprofit news organizations were created between 2007 and 2017. A survey of its nonprofit news organizations by the institute recently found they had a combined revenue total approaching $350 million in 2017. There are an additional 110 or so nonprofit accountability news organizations in the United States that are not members of the institute. America, for all its economic, racial, political, and social issues, has at least some corrective resources when activities that support democracy are said to be at risk.

In a departure from traditional journalistic practice, many of the country’s most prestigious commercial and public media organizations now partner with and publish stories written by nonprofit center reporters. This shift represents a significant change given the distrust and wariness by mainstream media toward externally produced stories and the culture of competition between newsrooms. “Collaboration is maybe the most dramatic change I have seen in newsroom culture in my lifetime,” observed Keller, a former New York Times’ executive editor.

 

New collaborations: a mutual benefit

 

On November 26, 2008, the Indian financial center of Mumbai was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks that killed 166 people and wounded more (more…)