Investigative reporting is difficult work. It takes unique skills. You don’t just say to a reporter find out what’s wrong here. It takes sources, digging and time to peel back the layers around a systematic failure. It also takes a certain type of bull-headed, persistent reporter. It takes luck, support and many other ingredients, some obvious, some secret to the sauce. And it takes the skills to tell the story so that it is accessible, understandable, fact-based and fair.

The series launched tonight by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch project about seismic safety in schools throughout California is a story that fortunately does not have any victims.

It was one of the first stories we embarked upon when California Watch started 19 months ago and reporter Corey G. Johnson joined our staff. It has been an arduous process, supported by others, but Johnson’s tenacity has been admirable and painstakingly thorough. Many other reporters, editors and producers have played critical roles bringing this series home.

We believe this is an important series of stories because it reveals problems and issues before a school is badly damaged in a quake and a child or teacher is hurt or killed.

Johnson and the rest of the team of reporters have been asking the types of questions that other news organizations would be asking, after the fact, if a school had been damaged or collapsed in a quake.

What we have done here is ask those questions and investigate before the potentially catastrophic event.

We are not saying disasters are imminent. What we are saying is that now is the time to check and look at issues that might exist in schools and other buildings throughout California.

Without appearing to be shrill or alarmist, these stories say, “take action.” They say to the public and officials this is the time to engage and understand what is safe and not in good shape or certified in your communities’ schools.

Through a wide, varied and multi-platform distribution partnership this package of stories should reach millions of people.

The best investigative reporting lays bare issues, reveals, exposes and has a crucial role in our society to protect democracy. We will help audiences engage in this story, but there are times when it is up to the public to take responsibility as well.

In the days, weeks and months ahead we will continue to report on these issues and questions our work has raised. We will see if problems are solved and if there are solutions offered. We know we have many other avenues to explore. Our reporting has revealed to us, and by extension, the public, a range of issues that should be debated and hopefully addressed.

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.