The California Watch distribution model is working. And every time we push out a story we learn something new. 

This week California Watch published a report by higher education reporter Erica Perez that showed how California’s public universities are slow to fix buildings deemed a significant seismic hazard. The story was broadcast on television and radio and appeared in newspapers and online Web sites. Even one college campus newspaper published the story (the Daily 49er at Cal State Long Beach), and we hope others will follow. 

Editorial Director Mark Katches edited versions at multiple lengths – the longest of which appears on our site. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a 100-inch version. The Bakersfield Californian, The Eureka Times Standard, the Long Beach Press Telegram and Orange County Register all ran condensed versions in the 50-inch range. The Fresno Bee and the San Diego Union Tribune ran short summaries of the story that teased readers to our Web site.

Last Friday night KGO-TV in San Francisco and KABC-TV in Los Angeles ran their versions. We supplied the story to them more than a week ahead of broadcast, as we did with print partners. KGO interviewed Erica and shared the interviews with its sister station in Los Angeles.

Both stations did their own reporting and shot video. At our request, KGO and KABC kept the story off their Web sites until 10 p.m. Saturday. At that time all of our media partners were free to put their version – with any additional local elements they may have added – on their sites. In return, we supplied links to multimedia elements Mark Luckie had built. They included a map of University of California seismic risks; a map of California State University dangerous buildings; and separate maps of UC Berkeley and UCLA. Mark also built an interactive history of earthquakes greater than 6.0 on the Richter scale.

Voice of San Diego used a version of the story, and added local inserts and rewrote the top of the story to focus on San Diego. Alternet.org used a summary version. Oakland Local also ran a short version of the story online and sent readers to our site for more of our multimedia pieces. KQED and KCBS in San Francisco interviewed Erica. KQED broadcast its story on Friday. KCBS aired their story Sunday. By Monday, we had added four new distribution partners to our list of more than 50 news outlets that have published or broadcast our content.

We are working on distributing our next big story – one that will allow newsrooms to produce more local content in their communities. Much of our distribution strategy is driven by the needs and interests of our publishing partners. Our stories have been well received, reaching millions of readers and listeners. That’s crucial. But the distribution model is evolving every week. And, yes, we are charging most of the media partners for our work. We are a nonprofit, but the more revenue we can generate decreases the potential reliance on others to survive.

We also are part of the movement working to develop new models to sustain investigative reporting, no matter what medium they work in. That is another key way we are hoping to be part of the solution.

California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and is now the largest investigative reporting team operating in the state. Visit the Web site at www.californiawatch.org for in-depth coverage of K-12 schools, higher education, money and politics, health and welfare, public safety and the environment.

Robert J. Rosenthal

Robert J. Rosenthal is a board member at The Center for Investigative Reporting. An award-winning journalist, Rosenthal has worked for some of the most respected newspapers in the country, including The New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle. Rosenthal worked for 22 years at the Inquirer, starting as a reporter and eventually becoming its executive editor in 1998. He became managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in late 2002, and joined CIR as executive director in 2008. Before joining the Inquirer in 1979, Rosenthal worked as a reporter for six years at The Boston Globe and three-and-a-half years at The New York Times, where he was a news assistant on the foreign desk and an editorial assistant on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon Papers project. As a reporter, Rosenthal won numerous awards, including the Overseas Press Club Award for magazine writing, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished foreign correspondence, and the National Association of Black Journalists Award for Third World Reporting. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in international reporting. Rosenthal was a Pulitzer Prize judge four times. He has been an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.