Dear Friends of IowaWatch,
I, as co-founder of IowaWatch.org, would like to congratulate you, the members of the IowaWatch family.
Thanks to your past support, IowaWatch’s journalistic success had earned for us a chance to receive up to $28,000 in matching funds from a $3 million national News Match 2017 fund drive.
So, now, we need your help so that we can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
News Match 2017 will match each tax-deductible donation, up to $1,000, that you make before Dec. 31. The News Match money comes from three prestigious organizations that respect what we do: provide investigative journalism and train students journalists to meet our high performance and ethical standards. They are: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Their support shows we have come a long way since I, along with a small group of volunteer board members and some amazing graduate and undergraduate students launched IowaWatch when I was still a journalism professor at the University of Iowa. Since our first project on May 29, 2010, IowaWatch has published 365 investigative or explanatory projects to date, and the student journalists we trained produced almost all of them. And most of those stories have been distributed by more than 140 professional news outlets — 120 outlets this year alone.
None of those stories, I am proud to say, told you what to think. None expressed a liberal or conservative point of view. None promoted the cause of Republicans or Democrats or of any advocacy group or special interest.
But they did something critically important for our democracy. They gave you – the key players in this democracy – meticulously reported and edited information based on research that is much more thorough than what you find in standard daily reporting, and they covered issues and problems that are important to your lives and the well-being of our country.
In our work, we eschew abstractions, but salivate over nuance. We try to find the big picture but we teach student reporters that they must first master the mind-numbing details to make that picture authentic, accurate, clearly focused and relevant. We love policy as any wonk would, but our students learn that they must dig through the bureaucratic morass, obfuscations and spin to find the truth and see where policy and real life come together. Then we teach them to present their findings to you in crisp writing or through podcasts, videos, color graphics and photos, databases or radio broadcasts.
In keeping with the scientific spirit, we train our student reporters to start with a story idea that emerges from observations, evidence or experience. We show them how to go into the field to subject that idea to rigorous reporting that seeks out all sides and relies on facts from our own data gathering, observations or from sources beholden to no cause, ideology or special interest. We aspire to make our stories so transparent that they reveal the source for every fact or statement so that you can judge the credibility of our work for yourself.
So, what has that effort accomplished?
One recent story revealed how a widely used police interrogation method often is linked to wrongful convictions. Seventeen news organizations from six states published it.
Another revealed how high school teachers deal with climate change science, and it sparked concerns among science educators and a full-scale review among climate experts and Iowa educators.
- Showed how school efforts to educate high school students about sexual assaults often are not effective, leaving some students unsure about what constitutes sexual assault;
- Revealed county sheriffs’ concerns about the impact of new gun laws and skyrocketing firearm purchases on public safety;
- Explained how the number of Alzheimer patients is greatly increasing just as Iowa is tightening the Medicaid system that pays for long-term nursing home care.
IowaWatch journalism is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. But, thanks to your generosity so far, we have been able to provide it for free. We do that because of our determination to seek the truth for you about public policy and public officials, to protect the free press and to protect democracy by holding government accountable to the public.
So, step up and stay with us in pursuit of this noble mission.
Stephen J. Berry