Grant helps fund regional investigative journalism project

Journalism Professor Brant Houston will coordinate a $75,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation that will be used to create two investigative projects to be conducted by a consortium of Midwest university professors with a background in investigative reporting.

The money will be used to help with expenses and coordination of these two major stories intended to serve the public interest. The stories will also deal with an important issue specific to the Midwest, which will be determined around the start of next year.

“A project like this doesn’t necessarily start with an e-mail tip or phone call, but generally we are looking for systemic problems within the system,” Houston said.

Professors from four states in the Midwest have initially committed to involvement in the project including Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. Houston would like to have enough universities involved so that the entire region can have a local angle.

“This is a public service, training and teaching project, and we’ll be out in the field a lot talking to the public,” Houston said.

Students will also have the opportunity to become involved with the project. Universities will select a number of students based on their expertise, passion and interest.

Andrea Baumgartner, freshman in Media, expressed interest in participating in the project if given the opportunity in the future.

“I think it’s a very interesting idea, and it would be cool to be a part of a study with experienced journalism professors,” Baumgartner said.

Houston said there have been several models where students across the country look at issues nationally, but what makes this so exciting is that this is regional.

“This will be a terrific opportunity for the faculty here and the students. We’ll be talking about what we are doing and how we’re doing it. So people, as much as possible, will be able to see investigative reporting in real time,” Houston said.

Houston holds the James L. Knight Foundation chair in investigative and enterprise reporting. He wrote for 17 years in newspapers doing investigative stories and has worked on long-term projects in the past.

“Leadership will be crucial in building and stabilizing a program such as this reporting consortium,” said Clark Bell, director of journalism of the McCormick Foundation. “Brant Houston is the real deal. We have worked with him on a number of projects, and he has always matched or exceeded our expectations.”

Houston said he believes this project is important to do now because of the thousands of jobs that have been lost in media, and a number of experienced journalists have been moved to universities and colleges.

He thinks it is great that these award-winning professionals are teaching journalism, and is excited to work with experienced and knowledgeable people.