Iowa Moves Forward in Public Affairs
A graduate student and a professor band together to form Iowa Watch
Citizens and journalists of Iowa will soon boast a new outlet for in-depth and explanatory public affairs journalism.
The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, which is still in the creation process, hopes to “provide Iowa journalists and journalism students with educational opportunities by producing independent investigative and explanatory projects to be distributed to news outlets throughout the state via the Center’s Web site,” at IowaWatch.org, according to their mission statement.
Associate Professor Stephen Berry, co-founder and interim executive director of Iowa Watch, said that the center is something he has been thinking about for more than a year. One of his main goals in developing the center is to provide students with opportunities for publishing.
“I get a lot of good stuff,” Berry said. “You hate to see good stories not published for everybody to see. It rips a professional journalist apart to see that happen.”
IowaWatch.org is part of a larger movement within the news industry. Financial struggles make it difficult for news organizations to spend time and money on in-depth public affairs reporting, and new non-profit news centers have been popping up across the country.
“This non-profit journalism movement is new,” Berry said. “To be part of something so new is absolutely invigorating.”
The Iowa Center will not focus on daily news and does not aim to replace commercial news outlets, but instead hopes to collaborate with and complement other journalism institutions by forming partnerships to reach a common goal.
The Iowa Center will build on similar initiatives already existing, such as the watch centers in New England, California and Wisconsin.
Co-founder Robert Gutsche Jr. (Ph.D. candidate, Madison Wis.), who previously worked for the Wisconsin Center, said that the development of these outlets is important because “issues of health, the environment, police, crime and other social and cultural issues need to be explored to help people relate to their own environments and make change.”
Both Berry and Gutsche complimented the Wisconsin Center initiative, and hope to build on and replicate the model here in Iowa. “We would make ourselves proud by matching what they do,” Berry said.
Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center, is providing Berry and Gutsche with guidance throughout the development process and is also a member of the Iowa Center’s Board of Directors.
The Iowa Center, which will eventually hire paid interns, aims to teach students to become good public watchdogs by coaching them through the reporting process.
“I’m going to be a tough editor,” Berry said, adding that if a story doesn’t meet the highest professional and ethical standards, it does not belong on IowaWatch.org.
Creators of the Iowa Center are hoping to gain a tax-exempt status in four to six months, which will allow them to accept grants from organizations such as the McCormick Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
In the meantime, they are looking to hire a fulltime executive director for the center.
“We want someone who either knows Iowa inside and out or who can come in from outside but who has the ability to truly understand Iowans, love this state and know its issues,” Gutsche said. An ideal candidate would also need to understand how a non-profit organization works and be able to plan ahead.
But for now, the center’s most immediate goal is to start creating news. “We want to publish. We want to start publishing like yesterday,” Berry said. “We’re close.”