Block by Block site focuses on Florida investigative reporting

Posted on October 24, 2011 by Janet Coats

Florida has long been a journalist’s paradise: Strong public records laws, residents with a tradition of newspaper readership and lots of strong newspapers conspired to create a tradition of strong accountability journalism.

But Florida has been hit particularly hard by the decline of newspapers, as publishers faced the double whammy of the real estate bust and the fundamental shift in the advertising base that long supported print.

In today’s post, Kathleen Majorsky introduces us to a Florida independent news site that is working to keep local accountability journalism strong – one of the key goals of the New Media Journalism Initiative.

Block by Block is the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting  (FCIR) co-founded by Trevor Aaronson.

In a time when traditional media in Florida was slashing their investigative reporting resources, Aaronson and his business partner Mc Nelly Torres founded the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Instead of competing with traditional media in the investigative space, FCIR strives to partner with newspapers to provide quality investigative journalism in the state of Florida.

“More and more we are finding traditional media being incredibly receptive to our work.  The need we felt was there really is there in a very real way.  These newspapers need content and they just don’t have the resources to produce that type of investigative reporting so they look to FCIR,” Aaronson says.

There’s no question the need is there. Florida newspapers have been suffering from the economic downturn longer than most. The housing bubble in the state was one of the worst in the nation, and it burst early – and hard.

In a state once known as a great place to be a newspaper reporter, positions have been slashed over and over again during the last five years. The state’s Tallahassee press corps, once numbered at 30 journalists, was down to 16 in 2009 when the American Journalism Review did a census of statehouse coverage across the nation; the number is even smaller now.

As FCIR works to build development prospects with local and regional foundations, their additional goal is for some of those funds to support their efforts in getting investigative reporting into the Spanish language media.

At FCIR, they try to diversify their revenue streams through foundations support, newspaper partnerships and investigative reporting training for young journalists.  FCIR is based at the International Media Center, an independent nonprofit located at Florida International University in Miami. FCIR intends to work with FIU to help student interns learn the skills necessary for strong investigative reporting.

For Aaronson, the key hurdle now is raising awareness of the need to fund the efforts that keep watchdog reporting alive in communities.

“I think we are at a point where most people don’t realize how dire the situation is,” he says.

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