Today, newsrooms across the state are running the first project produced by California Watch, the largest investigative reporting team in the state.
The series of stories written by reporter G.W. Schulz focus on waste and mismanagement in the state’s homeland security grant programs. He had a lot to work with. Schulz, a staff member at the Center for Investigative Reporting, found scores of examples of waste, questionable expenditures and a lack of oversight. One agency bought a plasma TV with Homeland Security funds. Another bought a Segway. One agency tried to use Homeland Security money to buy a lawnmower. (It was eventually blocked.) Millions of dollars went toward projects that weren’t competitively bid or broke other federal rules.
We pegged the release to the eighth anniversary of 9/11. The response has been phenomenal. In addition to running the package on our Web site at californiawatch.org, parts of the package ran in more than two dozen news organizations from San Jose to San Diego with a combined reach well in excess of 1 million people. One of our partners, La Opinión, translated the story into Spanish.
It’s been a wild ride getting to this point.
The goal was to distribute the package to as many news outlets as we could. To make it as painless as possible, Schulz and I worked together to edit the story three different ways – a full-length version that measured more than 100 inches and two shorter versions, one about 30 inches and the other about 45 inches long.
We figured that very few, if any, news organizations could accommodate the full-length version, which is available exclusively on our website. Even the 45-inch version would be a stretch for some smaller newspapers. The shortest version was tailored to these news organizations.
Several newspapers asked us to add local examples. We couldn’t accommodate everyone. In some cases, we provided source documentation to help newsrooms find their own examples. In other cases, Schulz combed through his notes and documents to identify more cases of misspending. He then did some more reporting, enabling us to customize versions of the story for some of the state’s largest newspapers. We did this for the Orange County Register, the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Daily News, La Opinión and the Bakersfield Californian. In the end, we produced 14 versions of the same story.
And it has paid off. Almost everyone we approached said they would take the story. We offered the package for a small fee – far less than we probably could have charged. We were more eager to reach a larger audience than raise revenue on our first big story. A special thanks goes to Schulz, who didn’t flinch when we decided to create so many different versions. Carrie Ching, Lisa Pickoff-White and Agustin Armendariz built the multimedia presentation, including an audio slideshow and an interactive map. Let us know what you think.