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Count Me In

There’s a lot of talk these days in reporter circles about the…future of journalism (emphasis added to imply doom). These discussions consistently circle around two issues: money and the Internet. The talks usually start with the money problem; we whisper about the most recent round of publicized newsroom cuts. We worry about people we know on those staffs and then we gulp and wonder what that means for our own future. The conversation always shifts, though, to note that those pink slips didn’t touch that publication’s Web operation. That brings us to our second topic: the Internet. Is it the answer to our industry’s financial problems? And even if it is, are traditional reporters, who are used to writing in isolation from their readership, ready to embrace that truth?

I’m excited to join The Washington Independent because we are facing these two core challenges head on. We’re following a different economic model, funding our endeavor by philanthropy. We’ve embraced the growing importance of the Web and we will creatively draw on its strengths, particularly its ability to create community.

We’re also not starting from scratch. As The Washington Independent’s new managing editor, I’m excited that an important part of my job will be to collaborate with our existing network of state sites. Over the last two years, the Center for Independent Media has built sites in four states that service readers in those communities. Here in Washington, that coverage will influence our own. Once we are up and running, our reporting will play a part on the state sites. As the center’s president, David Bennahum, explains below, this is a unique model. We’re in our nation’s capital, but we’re deeply interested in what happens at the state level.

I arrived here from the one-of-a-kind investigative reporting blog, TPMmuckraker, famous for breaking myriad scandals (from the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys to the State Department Inspector General’s perjury). I played a small part in covering the muck-ladden Alaska delegation and the suspicious prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL). Before I picked up my rake, I wrote for the Dow Jones newswires, covering corporate bankruptcy. I once received a fellowship from the Carnegie Corp. and the Knight Foundation to write a story that appealed to a young audience about privacy implications in the "post 9/11 world." I produced a story run by the AP about the Department of Education’s data mining program which shared the personal information of student loan applicants with the FBI for five years after the 2001 attacks.

Here on our staff blog, which we’ve coined The Editors’ Desk, I’ll flag interesting news coming out of our states. Our state sites have earned reputations for breaking news and for providing quality analysis, particularly on regional issues. Look only to Minnesota Monitor’s coverage of its state’s US Attorney Rachel Paulose for an example. Minnesota Monitor staff followed the ins and outs of the young attorney’s placement in the state and the controversy that ensued. Eric Black headed the coverage, including discovering how the federal Office of Special Counsel launched an official investigation into Paulose’s conduct this summer for allegedly retaliating against a whistle blower and for making racist comments about another employee. Black’s reporting focussed on a local topic that has huge implications for the nation. It turns out that the Paulose story fits into the broader trend of politicization at the Department of Justice, a story important to every state.

Our reporters will keep digging up these stories and I’m excited to see how our team in Washington will contribute.

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