The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism was an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news service from February 2010 to April 2022. It was founded at the University of Iowa by Stephen J. Berry, a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalist and an associate professor of journalism at the university, and Robert Gutsche Jr., a Ph.D. student and journalist at the university who helped launch the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009. Its first full-time executive director-editor was Lyle Muller, a veteran Iowa journalist whose experience included serving as editor of The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA). He joined the Center in May 2012 and retired in August 2019 but continued to report and help with editing when asked. He was succeeded by Suzanne Behnke, a long-time Iowa journalist who reported and edited for several news outlets, including The Des Moines Register.
The Center was incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Iowa in February 2010. The IRS granted Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code as a charitable organization in July 2010.
In late 2021, those responsible for running the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism and The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting of Champaign, Illinois, started talking about combining their efforts for a more comprehensive collaboration on investigative stories that cover agriculture and rural affairs. The two centers had collaborated for several years but this time, IowaWatch would fold into the Midwest Center’s Investigate Midwest. Months of discussions led to the boards of directors at both nonprofit news organizations to move IowaWatch into the Midwest Center in April 2022.
The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism filed Articles of Dissolution on May 12, 2022. During the Iowa Center’s 12-year existence it won recognition for its reporting in several ways:
- The Iowa Association for Justice’s 2014 Excellence in Journalism Award.
- A 2018 Citizen Diplomat Award from the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities, or CIVIC.
- Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award for best online news story by a college journalist — Lu Shen at the University of Iowa — in 2014.
- A John S. and James L. Knight INNovation grant to launch a weekly radio program, the IowaWatch Connection, that aired for five-and-a-half years on more than 20 radio stations in Iowa.
- Several Iowa Broadcast News Association awards for its IowaWatch Connection reporting.
- Selected by the Institute for Nonprofit News’ first AMPLIFY regional collaboration.
- Selected by HuffPost as its Iowa partner for its 2017 “Listen to America” tour.
- Selected by The Hechinger Report to be its Iowa partner for reporting on education.
- Selected by the Society of Professional Journalists to host an SPJ summer intern in 2016.
- Selected by Iowa Humanities to lead a statewide media project in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, as part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Council and Humanities Iowa, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Collaborations with multiple media partners, including The Des Moines Register, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), The Courier (Waterloo, IA), The Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA), Mason City Globe Gazette, The Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA); Iowa Public Radio; and several members of the Institute for Nonprofit News.
- IowaWatch provided training and collaborated with college student journalists at 13 campuses in Iowa.
To be Iowa’s leading collaborative investigative news organizationRevised and adopted April 2019
To lead investigative journalism in Iowa through collaboration, training of future journalists and efforts to increase the understanding of the role of journalism in a democracy.Revised and adopted April 2019
At the heart of the Iowa Center’s work are core values, which are the means by which the Iowa Center will achieve its vision. These values drive how the Iowa Center operates internally as well has how it functions in its external environment.
The Iowa Center will ensure that vetted, verified information is at the heart of its work.
The work of the Iowa Center and others similarly engaged is critical to maintaining a well-informed public, productive public discourse, and, therefore, a strong democracy.
The Iowa Center trains journalists and media organizations in the art and science of investigative journalism, and it educates the public on issues related to media consumption.
The Iowa Center believes in the power of collaboration—with journalists, media organizations, and other communities.
The Iowa Center – guided by a Board of Directors comprised of news professionals, educators and business professionals – developed a network of partners for collaboration and distribution of stories. More than 100 news organizations annually republished or aired stories by the Center.
The Center was led by an executive director-editor. This officer was the principal executive officer of the center, the primary contact with the Board of Directors and the public face of the organization.
The executive director-editor networked with journalism leaders and potential funding sources, raised funds, hired and developed the staff, oversaw the editing and production of the Web site and edited all major explanatory and investigative stories.
Stephen J. Berry served as interim executive director-editor of the organization during its first two years, working voluntarily to organize and establish the Center, obtain tax-exempt status and raise start-up funding. He continued to volunteer as the executive director’s go-to, always-accessible primary adviser. He played a role editing stories, working with the executive director-editor in raising funds, and, when needed, helping to supervise staff and interns.
Our reporters included student interns who reported on their own, or side-by-side with professional reporters employed by the Iowa Center or our news partners. We periodically took on assignments with our news partners.
To fit the education portion of our mission, we train and publish worthy news stories of student journalists. This work meets high standards expected of professional journalists. We are striving to:
- Maintain and possibly expand current programs working with colleges and universities, as well as with high schools, in an effort to train future investigative journalists.
- Develop training for current journalists to improve awareness and skill in investigative journalism.
- Show people how to consume the news, particularly in how to distinguish fake news from fact-driven news.
We also want to be innovative as we:
- Pursue innovative approaches to journalism, such as predictive journalism, crowdsourcing, and other disruptions to how journalism has been practiced.
- Curate and implement approaches to developing a stronger, broader network of individuals and organizations that value, demand, and make use of the Iowa Center’s products and services.
- Develop creative new approaches to fundraising, including new fund-raising events that sustain our work.
- Define new staff roles to support and further program innovations.
The Iowa Center works under the ethical guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists, incorporating them into its reporting and editing processes as established by the Center for Public Integrity.
How the two meet
Education is a major focus for the Center. And as the commercial news industry’s business model falters, we’re joining the growing number of non-profits across the country trying to fill the gap. We train new journalists about how to do ethical, accurate and transparent journalism.
We seek to produce highly motivated journalists – whether they are students or professionals – imbued with the investigative mentality.
We wish to hold public officials to high standards, assist regional and local news outlets in Iowa in the production of independent investigative and depth journalism, and provide an intense and meaningful educational experience and training for young journalists.