How Did InvestigateWest Garner $200K from Three Major Foundations?

The Seattle-based nonprofit journalism outfit InvestigateWest recently announced a combined gift totalling $200,000 in grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation ($50,000), the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation ($100,000), and the Bullitt Foundation ($50,000). So what are they doing to attract so much attention from these three foundations?

InvestigateWest was founded in 2009 with the mission to "strengthen communities, engage citizens in civic life, and help set the policy agenda through powerful, independent journalism." Like so many other journalism start-ups, they've forsaken the for-profit model in favor of a nonprofit news gathering approach.

As one of the fastest growing sectors in journalism, nonprofit media is poised to disrupt the traditional news business and potentially bring about a new era of sustainable reporting on stuff that really matters. (As opposed to Justin Bieber's latest arrest.) Many foundations and philanthropists are getting behind the cause. Like eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's First Look Media, InvestigateWest sees nonprofit journalism as the wave of the future.

"More and more, the need for independent, public-interest journalism is being met by those with an interest and capacity to support this essential civic institution," explained InvestigateWest Executive Director Robert McClure at the time of the announcement. "Since InvestigateWest’s founding almost five years ago we have repeatedly demonstrated how our reporting makes the Pacific Northwest a better place to live."

InvestigateWest says that its reporting "has directly brought about three new public safety laws in Washington State, new sexual assault policies at Reed College, and more than a dozen significant actions by city, state and federal agencies." Not bad for an outfit that's only been around for five years. And its content is also attracting lots of eyeballs through its website and other outlets. With a tight geographic focus, InvestigageWest is just the kind of new media venture that can help fill the void as newspapers continue their tailspin. 

For their part, all three organizations that funded InvestigateWest see the value in the nonprofit approach to news gathering, particularly investigative reporting. The Knight Foundation is the top leader in this space with their Local Media Initiative, which was launched to help nonprofit news organizations establish long-term sustainability. InvestigateWest is exactly the kind of group that Knight loves. 

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation also has a history of supporting nonprofit journalism and their grant includes a $50,000 matching challenge as an "incentive for new funders to support InvestigateWest’s independent, fact-based journalism."

The Bullitt Foundation describes themselves as "a charitable foundation that works to safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest." They're fairly new to the game of nonprofit journalism funding, but they see in InvestigateWest an ally in reporting on urban sustainability. Their grant will also allow InvestigateWest to hire a part-time program coordinator to work on development, news partnerships, and a membership program. And though they're not known as journalism funders per se, they fully believe in InvestigateWest's overall mission.

"Disruptive technologies have thrown investigative reporting into a maelstrom, and we are holding our collective breath while a new business model is being born," explained Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes. "Meanwhile, InvestigateWest has demonstrated courage, integrity, and meticulous attention to detail as it has pursued stories that would otherwise remain unreported. We are honored to be able to support its work."