“Local stories are the windows to things that become much bigger”
When InvestigateWest journalists say they are invested in community stories, they mean it.
Since the Seattle investigative newsroom’s founding in 2009, they’ve built an audience with their local approach to investigative journalism in Cascadia and the Pacific Northwest.
The newsroom has built a non-profit model for public-service journalism, publishing stories that reach over one million people every year. It has also partnered with bigger magazines and papers, such as The Atlantic, the New York Times and Salon.
“Our main goal is to not replicate good work being done elsewhere, but to look for gaps that are left behind by shrinking media across the Northwest,” said InvestigateWest’s executive director Jacob Fries. “We’re in no way trying to be a news organization that records everything that’s happening in the community, but to pick critical areas where we feel like we can have an impact and make a difference.”
“For the past 12 years, that’s kind of been our mission. We want to do big, long in-depth stories in hopes of shaping dialogue about where the community is headed,” Fries added.
Today, InvestigateWest is made up of four reporters based in various places across the Pacific Northwest and Cascadia. Even with a tiny team, the newsroom puts out ambitious work. Recently, the Voting Rights Project at the University of California’s Los Angeles campus (UCLA) used InvestigateWest’s reporting as part of their lawsuit against three Washington counties.
“Local stories are the windows to things that become much bigger,” said Fries. “Having an eye on our communities and these issues helps us tell stories that are important.”
And this focus on local investigations is paying off. InvestigateWest’s reporters must have a strong connection to the area, which helps forge relationships with community members. He is also looking to expand his team – the newsroom is looking for a new investigative reporter to join the editorial team in January.
Working towards more diversity and equity in reporting
As part of InvestigateWest’s mission statement, there is a diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility section that highlights the newsroom’s dedication to building authentic and trusting relationships in the community.
These relationships can be seen in InvestigateWest’s published stories. One of the newsroom’s most promoted stories in November is about a Black family navigating a broken childcare system. In April, Investigate West published a story about Sang Nguyen, a Vietnamese nursing home social worker trying to prevent his family from getting infected by COVID-19.
The newsroom is also trying to hire more BIPOC staff to join its editorial team. Fries said he is trying to bring in racialized editors to track the newsroom’s reporting and content. He also said he is hiring an investigative reporter with a “strong emphasis on having better BIPOC representation.”
“It’s still a work in progress for us,” said Fries.
A strict funding regime
InvestigateWest has strict financial policies to make sure it maintains its editorial independence while still being financially viable. The policy is organized around three types of support: support for investigative journalism in general, support for broad topical coverage and support for specific reporting projects.
“We’re emphasizing the need for journalists in our communities and how the loss of journalism impacts the health of our community and our democracy,” said Fries.
These funds often come from individual donors and foundations. More than 170 people financially contributed to InvestigateWest in 2020. The newsroom also receives funding from foundations and news partners such as the Ethics and Excellence Journalism Foundation, the Bullitt Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, among others.
Most importantly, InvestigateWest’s financial supporters have no voice in editorial decisions and they try to be as transparent as possible.
“I do think nonprofit, small news organizations are also tapping into the folks who want to support journalism but are involved in their local communities. Earlier this month, we were able to announce a six-figure donation from two local philanthropists in Seattle. This helps us to keep doing what we do,” Fries said.