From the Field

Blog posts on what InvestigateWest reporters and staffers are up to.

Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!

With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.

At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.

“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”

InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.

InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use.

 “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”

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Social media campaign gets new eyes on our work

On June 13th, InvestigateWest launched its first major social media campaign associated with a story. The story, “Breathing Uneasy – The Air Pollution Crisis in South Seattle” was a joint effort by IW’s Robert McClure and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS-9. IW’s objective was to get the story to readers and viewers through social media channels, in addition to publication and broadcast with media partners, which also included Crosscut.com. Here’s a rundown of what we learned.

Much like a more traditional advertising campaign, the effectiveness of a social media campaign is measured by the extent to which organization goals are met.

However, because the campaign for “BreathingUneasy” was not intended to sell a product or gain customers, we look at success a little differently than does traditional business. When evaluating the success of a story campaign, we exchange measures such as unit sales and new customers for metrics like website traffic, connections/followers on social networks, responses to our messages and content, and whether the audience shares the content within their network. An added dimension is whether the report motivates civic participation.

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InvestigateWest and KCTS 9 co-produce "Breathing Uneasy," a look at the air pollution crisis in South Seattle

“Breathing Uneasy” is the result of a collaboration between InvestigateWest and KCTS 9. Veteran environmental reporters Robert McClure of InvestigateWest and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS 9 spent six months examining the impact of truck traffic on the communities that border the Port of Seattle, an area that new studies say has some of the worst air in the state. Their stories detail how toxic emissions from diesel trucks endanger residents of some of Seattle’s poorest communities, but also contain lessons and implications for any area dealing with major roadway traffic near schools and residential neighborhoods.

In addition, McClure and Cunningham examine how Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani helped oppose changes in legislation that would have made trucks cleaner, despite his promise to make Seattle the “cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.”

A special report on air pollution, co-produced by InvestigateWest and KCTS 9,  will air on KCTS Connects Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Click here to view the video.

To read the stories on Crosscut, click here.  And you can listen to Robert McClure discuss the issue with Ross Reynolds on The Conversation during the noon hour Tuesday, June 14 on KUOW 94.9 FM.

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Social media in investigative reporting: A conversation with CIR’s Meghann Farnsworth

As InvestigateWest’s new online community manager,  I consider myself a journalist at heart. Although my prior work in social media was for a marketing organization, I bring experience and a mindset of a digital journalist to this new role for InvestigateWest. Some hold that social media is antithetical to journalism, but I disagree. My goal is to share and promote quality reporting through the powerful tools of new media, including social media. Though social media is not as iconic as whirring printing presses and ink smudges, it is connecting journalists with audiences in unprecedented ways.

I came to INVW prepared to plead the case of social media for a non-profit to those who view social media as a new-age marketing tool. Why should professional reporters be concerned with what Joe Anybody has to say about the cost of cereal from his supermarket? I also anticipated that social media activity on behalf of a non-profit reporting organization would need to be conservative and closely scrutinized so as to not embroil the organization in any controversy.

To investigate these assumptions, I called my counterpart at the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting for some answers. Meghann Farnsworth is the Online Community Manager of the CenterforInvestigativeReporting(CIR) and its subsidiary CaliforniaWatch(CW). What I learned about Farnsworth’s role at CIR and the role of social media in investigative reporting is an exciting glimpse into what new media technology offers to reporters and audiences.

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Rita Hibbard's picture

The power of regional investigative reporting

We have good news about the news business to share. Our work makes a difference!

InvestigateWest's groundbreaking story on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure for health care workers has resulted in the passage of two laws improving worker safety in Washington state, signed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire in April. One of the laws establishes an occupational cancer registry in the state, and the other regulates better regulates toxic compounds, including chemo drugs, in the workplace. That story first appeared on our web site, on msnbc.com, The Seattle Times and in a documentary we co-produced with KCTS 9.

In addition, a measure banning toxic pavement sealants also was signed into law by the governor. That effort came after InvestigateWest  wrote about the issue just over a year ago. With the governor's signature, Washington state became the first state in the nation to ban the sealants, joining a handful of smaller governments across the nation that have taken similar steps. That work appeared on our web site and on msnbc.com.

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Carol Smith's picture

Learning from the Duwamish River Communities

Seattle is a city built on water – its identity, its celebrated beauty, and much of its economic lifeblood comes from its relationship to Puget Sound and the rivers that flow into it.

But the Duwamish River, which runs through the center of Seattle’s urban industrial core, is not the one you see on post cards. Now named one of the largest Superfund sites in the country, it is also the river in the backyard of more than 38,000 of Seattle’s poorest and most diverse residents.

The goal of my 2010 National Health Fellowship project was to identify the community health issues that face the people living in two neighborhoods – Georgetown and South Park -- which face each other across the toxic river in the middle of the Superfund site. 

The thinking was that by identifying these problems, we could call out the issue of accountability, and more importantly point the way toward creative solutions for a portion of the population the greater Seattle community has historically ignored. The backdrop for the story was a looming multi-million dollar Superfund decision about how best to clean up the river, and to what extent.

The precipitating event for the story, though, was the closure of the bridge that links the two communities, effectively cutting off easy access to downtown Seattle a few miles away. To me it seemed the perfect metaphor for the attitude of the larger population toward those struggling to carve a life on the banks of the river that built the prosperous city down the road.

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InvestigateWest co-hosts stormwater forum that shows civic discourse is still possible

InvestigateWest reached a milestone this week when we co-hosted a large public-policy forum on the State Capitol grounds in Olympia.

The subject was stormwater, the polluted rainwater runoff I’ve been writing about for perhaps a decade now, with particular emphasis on its effects on Puget Sound, where it is the largest source of toxics.  For two years running environmentalists have unsuccessfully advanced plans in Olympia to raise money to deal with the problem. More bills are pending in the current legislative session, so it seemed like a logical time to raise the issue’s profile and encourage a frank discussion.

That we got. And while we never expected to resolve the entire issue at a lunchtime forum, it did feel like progress to hear all the panelists acknowledge that stormwater is a difficult problem that somehow we are going to have to deal with collectively.

Seven legislators and several legislative aides joined environmentalists, business lobbyists and at least three journalists in the audience of 70. Overall it had the tone of a civil discussion with respect for all points of view – the kind of civic discourse often lacking in this age so seemingly dominated by vitriol. Once upon a time, news organizations did more of this kind of thing. The presidential debates of 1956 and 1960 may be the best-known examples. Journalists do still occasionally organize these events, but it seems to me that more of this sort of discussion could be helpful to citizens and policy-makers on all sides of many issues.

Co-hosting were Sightline Institute and Washington Policy Center, the two think tanks that have most carefully followed the stormwater story in Washington. I was fortunate to work with Brandon Houskeeper, a policy analyst at WPC, and Lisa Stiffler, journalism fellow at Sightline.

Byline: 
Rita Hibbard's picture

Investigating the health of a community

The Duwamish is not only Seattle’s only river, and the original home of its first Native American people, it is now also an industrial waterway classified as one of the nation’s worst toxic waste sites and one of the few federal Superfund cleanup sites in the country to bisect a major urban area.

Through this project, InvestigateWest's Carol Smith examined how this confluence of factors – location, history and industry – has shaped the health of the communities that have grown up around the river. While reams of data have looked at the health of the river, much less is known about the health of the people who depend on or live near its waters. Smith was a 2010 recipient of the national California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship from the University of Southern Calfornia's Annenberg School of Journalism. This project was done in conjunction with her fellowship and also appeared in www.seattlepi.com.

Carol, an experienced health journalist, was able to dig deep and find some fascinating public health data to illustrate what living in a Superfund site can do to the people who call it home.

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