Graced as it is with talented reporters and editors, Philadelphia’s journalism community—like most of the country’s—has seen more abundant days. The statistics of newsroom decline need not be repeated; suffice it to say there are fewer jobs for reporters now than five years ago, fewer five years ago than a decade before that, and so on. Less reporters means, in some cases, less reporting and, in many cases, a greater workload, to be completed at a hastier pace.
In this environment, the Center for Public Interest Journalism is working to channel the good will of local philanthropic foundations into bolstering the resources available to the region’s reporters. Next week, for example, 25 local journalists will attend the annual conference of the Online News Association in San Francisco, thanks to a generous grant from the Wyncote Foundation.
ONA 2012, like the organization’s previous conferences, promises to dive into a wide array of topics of keen interest to journalists in the digital age—from “The Business of Collaboration” and “Designing Digital Newsrooms” to sessions on tech trends, impact measurement, and cleaning and manipulating data. For the fourth year in a row, CPIJ (and its predecessor project) will send a group of local reporters to network and share best practices with their colleagues from across the country.
This past June, the same grant from the Wyncote Foundation funded ten Philadelphia journalists to attend the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Boston. The IRE conference featured dozens of panel discussions and demo sessions with prominent investigative journalists, and on issues as specific as Spanish-language investigations, covering veterans’ issues, and investigating public pensions. One session, with Leonard Downie, Jr., a Washington Post editor who worked on the Watergate series, was particularly well-attended.
Holly Otterbein, a reporter for It’s Our Money who attended the conference on a CPIJ sponsorship, suggested she was slightly starstruck. “I felt like a fanboy at IRE in many ways, and that really helped to inspire and re-energize me,” she said.
The conference also featured presentations on technologies that aid in investigation, data reporting, and visualization.
“I attended a session on Tableau, which is statistical analysis software that lets you create some gee-whiz interactive graphics pretty easily, even for someone like me,” said Patrick Kerkstra, a freelance reporter whose property-tax-delinquency series for PlanPhilly and the Inquirer last summer was recognized with one of the first Weiss Awards for Investigative Journalism. “Those graphics are going to play a big role in two upcoming stories, including the follow-up delinquency series.”
Tara Murtha, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Weekly who also received a sponsorship from CPIJ, wrote: “Without exaggeration, IRE opened my eyes more than I could have imagined to the kind of investigative journalism that is needed here in Philadelphia. I don’t just mean focusing on the public interest, I mean the execution of deep data-driven journalism possible with time and a laptop and the right skills.”
Next week, we’ll be posting to this website updates, highlights, and lessons from ONA 2012. If you weren’t able to attend ONA or IRE this year, keep an eye out for future professional development opportunities sponsored by CPIJ by following us on Twitter and liking our Facebook page.