Guest speaker Kristen Lombardi on non-profit journalism
On Thursday, March 22, Kristen Lombardi of the Center for Public Integrity visited class to talk about her experience as an investigative journalist working at a non-profit. Lombardi’s been a reporter for 17 years, with long stints at The Boston Phoenix and The Village Voice. She start at the Center in 2007, where she said she focused on long-term, in-depth investigative reporting.
Lombardi’s first major story was The Hidden Costs of Clean Coal, which exposed the risks of longwall mining operations in Pennsylvania, which coal companies were advertising as “clean.” The story is a few years old, but it’s still a very good read, with multiple long-form text stories, videos, audio slideshows, pictures, and downloadable documents related to the investigation. Lombardi said she spent a year on the story, even moving to the area for two months, during which she achingly tried to get people to talk (and eventually, they did).
But Lombardi is best known for her work on Sexual Assault on Campus, a long investigative piece that exposed the lax policies and punishments colleges had for those accused of sexual assault. Lombardi said the Center spent $250,000 on the piece, even compiling their own research data via surveys with colleges and universities across the country. She spent 18 months on this piece, and it garnered a lot of media attention. Many Center of Public Integrity media partners picked up the story and localized it, for example.
Lombardi said she enjoys investigative reporting, but it’s hard to find newspapers that still have investigative teams. Times are hard and budgets are tight for major newspapers; many have cut their investigative teams in the last few years. Lombardi saw an opportunity to continue her passion for investigative journalism at the Center after she left The Village Voice. She said that, if she were working at a paper, she wouldn’t have been able to dig as deep into her stories or spend as much time on them. One major difference in her work, however, is her exposure to the business side as well as the editorial. She is expected to attend events and speak with donors to pull in money for the Center.
The non-profit model is certainly interesting, but I don’t know if I believe it can last. Lombardi herself conceded that the non-profit journalism model is “non-sustainable,” given that it lives off donations. I honestly would prefer to work at a for-profit newspaper than a non-profit (though I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with working at a non-profit). I just think the for-profit model gives the paper more editorial freedom – you don’t have to answer to donors. Donors do not control the paper. Instead, the readers control what they read with the demand for certain kinds of news coverage. And isn’t that the whole point of the press, to provide a service for the community, as the community demands it?