Center for Investigative Reporting to streamline operations, publish fewer stories

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The Center for Investigative Reporting, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit news center, will consolidate its  three different reporting strands under one name as of May 29.

The CIR moniker, which has been primarily associated with stories of national or international interest, will now incorporate local reporting on the Northern California region from the Bay Citizen, and statewide coverage that has been published under California Watch.

Though the titles of both the Bay Citizen and California Watch will be phased out, enterprise reporting on topics of local and statewide interest will continue. The newsroom will be scaling back its output, according to Robert Rosenthal, CIR executive director, but for the purpose of focusing on higher-impact investigative reporting projects.  Staff will not be cut.

CIR announced the change one year after the Bay Citizen merged with CIR. The local online news start-up began publishing in 2010 with backing by the late philanthropist Warren Hellman and struggled to stay afloat after his death in 2012.

California Watch launched in 2009 as a project of CIR, and has won many of journalism’s highest honors in its short life, including multiple George Polk and Online News Association awards. The site was also a Pulitzer finalist in 2012.

But as California Watch garnered recognition for its reporting, CIR was rarely acknowledged as its parent organization. The oversight by awards committees helped prompt the rethink of CIR’s branding, Rosenthal said. By combining all the strands under one brand, CIR hopes to eliminate any confusion over which news organization is producing the investigations.

“We were defining ourselves by geography,” Rosenthal said. “We felt we would be a lot more effective, in terms of people actually understanding who we are, by going under one name.” CIR’s business model relies on publishing stories through media content partners rather than page views, so eliminating websites for local and statewide news won’t undercut the nonprofit’s funding model.

But the restructuring also helps to streamline editorial decision-making, Rosenthal said. Under the divided structure, investigations that began as locally focused stories would sometimes take on greater national significance, creating confusion over which staff were taking the lead in reporting them and how they would be published. A recent investigation on a backlog of claims in the Veteran’s Affairs office in Oakland was first reported by the Bay Citizen and then launched a national CIR investigation.

“We know that as long as we are telling the right stories – the stories that no one else is covering, the stories that reveal deeply hidden information, the stories that actually make a difference in people’s lives – it doesn’t matter if they are about San Francisco or Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” Rosenthal said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

Websites for the Bay Citizen and California Watch will remain live after the consolidation, but all future stories will be published on CIR, Rosenthal said.

CIR had an operating budget of $10.5 million for fiscal 2013.

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