A letter from the editor

Posted June 5, 2010

Dear Friends of IowaWatch,

Back in March, Daily Iowan reporter Danny Valentine walked into my office and dropped an envelope on my table. Inside were five, $100 bills. I want this to go to IowaWatch, he said. When I tried to give it back, he refused it. “I’ll just waste it,” he argued, noting frivolities that would tempt a graduating senior with such wad of cash. “IowaWatch will make better use of it than I would, and it’s just money from Hearst.”

Danny’s gift, coupled with his words, is stamped in my memory, not because of the generosity, but for its stirring symbolism. You see, Danny had just won that money in the prestigious Hearst Awards competition for an investigative project in the Daily Iowan.

Gift is investment in a Dream

Danny’s work, “Siren Song of Alcohol,” transformed the public discourse about binge drinking at near lethal levels in Iowa City. Thanks largely to his work, university groups and powerful individuals who had once stood silent spoke out, and an emboldened city council passed a law to curb illegal drinking. It took effect last Tuesday, when I started composing this letter.

Danny demonstrated public service journalism at its finest and community leadership at its best. His project is precisely what we at The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism were dreaming about publishing on IowaWatch.org. And Danny was investing in that dream.

Fast forward two months. Now, we are publishing, as an independent, non-profit. We give our stories and services for free to any news organization – non-profit or for-profit – wanting to do a serious public affairs story to help Iowans become well-informed participants in our democratic society.

However, doing things free isn’t free.

Friends, I’m a reporter, not a fundraiser, but asking for money to carry out our mission is a new role I embrace. Not many of us catch a windfall like Danny’s, but any amount will help hire a tough, public-spirited editor, support a student intern, pay for records requests and inspire the aspiring, like IowaWatch staff writer Jim Malewitz.

IowaWatch Envisions Collaborating with Other Media

Last Saturday, in the Center’s first project with another news organization, Jim collaborated with The Cedar Rapids Gazette to produce a “A Study in Contrasts: When Students Go Missing,” a four-story, multimedia package.  It raised troubling questions about the actions of the University of Iowa, police and the media when a student disappeared and later turned up dead.

“I already feel my donation is justified,” Danny Valentine, now interning at the St. Petersburg Times, wrote to me after reading Jim’s work.

Jim worked on that project a year, for free, while pursuing a master’s in journalism. My hardworking co-founder and fellow journalist, Robert Gutsche, is also working for free, while pursuing a doctorate. And so are the interns and staff members, whose pictures and bios are on this site.

Here’s another way you can help. Let us tap into your expertise. Whether your field is medicine, consumer affairs, criminal justice, education, government, the environment or something else, let us put you on our expert list; then be ready for a call.

And, finally – we want your story ideas. You don’t need to be an expert, a journalist or have money for that. If you read the news and care about your community, you have what we need – eyes, ears and minds in every nook and cranny of Iowa. I have told you we want to investigate and write about serious public affairs issues in Iowa. So, what are those issues? You tell us; that’s your expertise.

In the meantime, click to Jim’s project in GazetteOnline and to Danny’s in the Daily Iowan to see the kind of work you can help us do. Then donate whatever amount you can so we can continue doing investigative and explanatory journalism.

Stephen J. Berry,

Interim Executive Director-Editor