If you're the kind of person reading this column over the holidays, then you're probably the kind of person who worries about the future of American journalism. And you very likely know all too well that the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry, the devolution of television news and the rise of Internet news sites have raised big questions about how we will continue to produce quality reporting — especially investigative reporting that takes on the social issues too often neglected in our media.
Exactly how to preserve and promote investigative journalism in a changing world is a complicated problem that has preoccupied publishers, reporters, readers and concerned citizens for years now. But while the news industry financially sorts itself out, solutions are under construction in the nonprofit sector, where advertising, click rates and infotainment don't overwhelm journalistic values.
This is why, during the last few days of 2013, I ask you to consider supporting an important institution that ensures the kind of journalism we value most can thrive: The Investigative Fund. (Here I should disclose that in addition to my other work, I have served proudly at The Fund for several years as editor-at-large.)
With donations from individuals and foundations, the independent and nonprofit Investigative Fund supports the craft of investigative reporting across a broad swath of American media, from magazines like The Nation, The Washington Monthly, Harper's, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, GQ, Time and The New York Review of Books, to major broadcast and web outlets, such as NPR's Marketplace, Slate, The Huffington Post, PBS and Fusion TV, to name only a few.
Over the past year, its grants have again produced stunning stories — including an undercover probe of the sickening conditions suffered by children who work in this country's tobacco fields. Yes, there are kids too young to buy cigarettes who are hired to harvest the killer crop for a pittance — and get poisoned by the nicotine leaching from its leaves under the broiling sun.
The Fund has sent reporters into all kinds of places where the light of serious journalism rarely shines — such as the shipping warehouses where holiday temp workers toil en masse for low wages until their hands bleed; or the homes where orphaned children are abused by the dozen under the stern oversight of devoutly "religious" adoptive parents; or the obscure places along the U.S.-Mexico border, where innocent people have been wounded and even killed by the Border Patrol for no apparent reason at all.
Since its founding as a pilot project in 1996, The Investigative Fund's stories have sparked resignations of public officials, triggered FBI probes, grand jury investigations, congressional hearings and federal legislation, while others have changed the debate around a key issue or exposed previously hidden forms of abuse and exploitation. Investigative Fund stories have won some of journalism's top prizes: the George Polk Award, the National Magazine Award, the Sidney Hillman Award, medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors and many more.
As gratifying as recognition from peers is, what matters more is how The Investigative Fund serves the enterprising reporters who now often struggle to practice their craft. At The Fund, they can obtain the kind of support they need to work on the kind of stories we need. Along with grants for travel, research, reporting and other expenses, The Fund's editors provide professional editorial guidance and, when necessary, legal support, too.
When a young reporter probing suspicious deaths in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ran into a stonewall at the parish coroner's office, The Fund hired local counsel who sued for access to hidden documents — and won. When police in Fiji arrested another young reporter who was investigating the depletion of its resources to produce bottled luxury water, The Fund reached out to U.S. diplomats — and ensured her safety.
While fearless in its choice of stories, The Fund is rigorous, too, with every article or broadcast fact-checked before distribution. In an era when uninformed and scabrous opinion too often overshadows real reporting, upholding traditional journalistic standards is a critical part of The Fund's mission.
Should you wish to support The Investigative Fund's work with a tax-deductible contribution, click here to visit TheInvestigativeFund.org — where you can first read some of the hundreds of stories made possible by such donations, while also learning about their impact. This is an investment in the kind of journalism that remains vital to both democracy and decency.