I was in senior management at big newspapers for nearly 15 years. In all that time I was never involved in a strategic, content-driven growth initiative that involved hiring and planning for the creation of a new team.

There were one-off hires where you were looking for a certain fit, and there were opportunities to divert staff in the newsroom or to ask people to switch jobs and then convince them why the new job was a great opportunity. And there were times you had to ask someone to do something that you believed was for the good of the organization but which you knew the person would not like. All part of managing. 

When I started as executive director at the Center for Investigative Reporting in January 2008, we had a staff of eight. With hires that we announced this week for California Watch, we now have 26 staffers.

Managing growth is complicated. It is challenging; it can be difficult, but it is fun. I’m sorry to say I had a lot more experience in cutting staff, and it was not fun. Truth be told, I was not very good at it. Hence my departure from two previous editing posts.

When building a team without really knowing the skill sets or the personalities of each person, there is a certain gamble you take. You rely on your gut, references, past work and the energy and passion you feel from someone who is willing to take a risk and be part of a new venture. Sometimes you’ve worked with someone and that makes it easier. Even though CIR has been around for 33 years, we feel like we’re hiring for a startup – a startup with a great legacy. 

Our next hires will be for very nontraditional jobs – jobs that will help us distribute our stories, both through legacy media and through new media partners and social media. We will also be looking for someone who can lead and innovate around content and technology and coordinate our efforts to tell stories utilizing the evolving technologies. We will also be seeking an individual with a business background who can help us with revenue generation, marketing, branding – all the things a business needs to survive.

We are a nonprofit, but we are working to alleviate our dependence on foundations that account for the vast majority of our income. Our goal is to create a model to support high-quality journalism and investigative reporting. We have built an editorial team and now we must build the business infrastruture.

Gene Roberts forgive me. I sound like a publisher, but I have to admit that’s what I have also become. But while wearing my publisher hat, my goal is not focused on making a profit. Instead, it’s about sustaining our operation in the midst of this transitional, transformational era. I want to keep these 26 staffers working for a long time.

To help do it, we need to all think like entrepreneurs. Our value is based on the work we produce. Our success is going to be measured in strong journalism, credibility and unique and traditional ways of story telling. And if we can create an application or an informational tool that generates widespread interest, or even revenue, it will go back into the operation so that we – and the journalism community that we are part of – can learn.  Whatever we do here that works, or does not work, will be shared.

We are in a bubbling petri dish surrounded by opportunity on the run. And yes, it continues to be exciting, fun and challenging. 

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.

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Robert J. Rosenthal

Robert J. Rosenthal is the chief executive officer at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Rosenthal was the executive director of CIR from January 2008 to spring 2017. When he joined CIR, it had a staff of seven and when he left, it had a staff of nearly 70 and was recognized as one of the leading nonprofit newsrooms in the country. He is an award-winning journalist and worked for some of the most respected newspapers in the country, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The 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 left in 2007. During this time, he led the investigation into the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. That work became known as the award-winning Chauncey Bailey Project. Before joining The Inquirer in 1979, Rosenthal worked for six years as a reporter 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 Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished foreign correspondence and the National Association of Black Journalists Award for Third World reporting. He was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting and was a Pulitzer judge four times. He has been an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Rosenthal is also currently advising or on the board of multiple journalism nonprofits. In 2018, Rosenthal was named a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists for his “extraordinary contribution to the profession of journalism.”