No Money? No Problem: How Investigative Reporting Has Found a Home in Non-Profit Journalism

On Thursday our class was privileged to have a visit from guest speaker Kristen Lombardi, an accomplished journalist specializing in investigative reporting. A veteran of the business for 17 years, Lombardi has been recognized for her thorough coverage of important social issues. Lombardi joined the Center for Public Integrity in 2007 and is currently one of 24 journalists selected for a Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard University.

Kristen Lombardi on investigative journalism

I was struck by the amount of time, effort and resources that have gone into Lombardi’s work. Her piece “The Hidden Costs of Clean Coal” was published by the Center in 2009, an investigative look into longwall mining in Pennsylvania. Lombardi said she spent two months living in the Keystone State and interviewed over 100 people for two stories, each well over 10,000 words.

Another piece that took an extraordinary amount of time was “Sexual Assault on Campus,” a look into the alarming trend of sexual assault cases in college that are not handled properly. Lombardi said this piece took 18 months to complete and cost over $250,000 to produce. Those are staggering statistics in the journalism industry.

What stood out the most to me regarding Lombardi’s work and investigative journalism as a whole is its shift to the non-profit model. Lombardi once worked for media outlets such as the Boston Phoenix and Village Voice but ultimately parted ways with the outlets because they could no longer financially support investigative reports that took time and money. With everyday newspapers struggling to stay afloat, many investigative journalists have found a home writing for non-profits.

Lombardi noted that the non-profit journalism model is growing as newspapers continue to let go of investigative reporters due to financial constraints.

“I don’t think these stories are possible in a sustainable model for newspapers,” she said. “The challenges are too great for most for-profit newspapers to fund this kind of work.”

Non-profit entities such as the Center exemplify what it means to make lemonade when life hands you lemons. It of course is not a good thing that newspapers are continually cutting back on investigative staff members, but with non-profits these journalists can continue to do what they do best and further expand their craft.

Lombardi called her piece on sexual assault something that “best epitomizes what a non-profit can do.” The story earned her the Robert F. Kennedy Award and Dart Award in 2011 and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in 2010. Pieces like this benefit the public good because they promote awareness and spring action. Thanks to non-profits, investigative journalism continues to exist.

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