I just spent an hour handing out fliers on a street corner about our latest California Watch story.

“Want to know what buildings on campus are seismically unsafe?” That was how I started my pitch to students walking to UC Berkeley, which has more seismically dangerous buildings than any other public university in the state.

The flier contained a list of buildings rated “poor” or “very poor” in the event of a big quake. It also included our Web address to learn more about the subject. Many of the students who got the fliers were headed to classes in those very buildings on the list. You can download the flier at the bottom of this blog post.

It was a pretty good feeling getting the last flier distributed.

We published our full-length story by Erica Perez on our Web site more than a week ago. The package included maps of UC Berkeley, UCLA, and separate maps of the University of California and California State University systems. We also included an interactive history of earthquakes in California. Newspapers that ran a version of it included the San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, San Diego Union Tribune, Bakersfield Californian, Long Beach Press Telegram and the Eureka Times Standard. The story also was broadcast by KQED Radio, as well as TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Long Beach State Daily 49er also ran the story. Our executive director at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Robert Rosenthal, wrote about our distribution methods of the seismic story on our blog last week. In the wake of Chile and Haiti, we plan to do more reporting in the near future about seismic issues in California.

If reaching print, online, TV and radio platforms isn’t broad enough distribution, we created the one-page flier summarizing the story.  A few of us handed them out just outside our offices.

I encountered my share of passersby who put their heads down or their hands up. A few sped up when they saw me. (I might have done the same.) But dozens of others slowed down, took the one-page hand out, stopped and began reading.

It’s all about getting stories into the hands of people who are impacted by our journalism the most – one at a time, if need be.

The flier idea was pitched by Sarah Terry-Cobo who has been helping California Watch distribute stories. We loved it right away. Outside-the-box thinking is highly valued here. Mark S. Luckie, one of our multimedia producers, designed the flier. Because of our location between a BART station and the UC Berkeley campus, our block gets a ton of foot traffic from students, faculty and staff.

Passing out fliers is just one way to take advantage of that foot traffic. We also posted the fliers on kiosks on campus. And we e-mailed PDF versions to student groups on campus so they could pass them along to their members.

We decided to hand out fliers, in part, because of spring break. When we published our story on March 18, we hadn’t realized – until it was too late – that our distribution came right at the start of the spring recess. That meant a lot of UC Berkeley students would be away when the story first appeared. It was a good bet that many students had missed it. Because the story is an investigative piece, it has a lot longer shelf life than a breaking news story, so we believed it was worthwhile to find ways to reach students after they returned to class.

It’s no longer just about newsprint, TV, radio or even the Web anymore. California Watch plans to find other untraditional outlets to get the word out when we have an important story to tell.
 

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.

Mark Katches is a past editorial director for The Center for Investigative Reporting. He is currently editor of the Oregonian and vice president of content for the Oregonian Media Group. Previously, he built and ran investigative teams at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Orange County Register. Mark was the primary editor of Pulitzer Prize-winning projects in both 2008 and 2010 and edited or managed five other stories that were Pulitzer finalists. Projects he edited or directed also have won the George Polk Award, the IRE award and the Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award as well as the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Sigma Delta Chi Award and the National Headliner Award. Multiplatform projects produced by CIR staff under Mark's guidance won a national News & Documentary Emmy, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He has overseen projects or websites that have won four Online Journalism Awards in the last decade, in addition to logging more than a dozen OJA finalists. In 2001, he was part of a reporting team that won the Gerald Loeb and IRE awards for a series of stories detailing the rising profits from the human tissue trade. He completed a Punch Sulzberger Fellowship at Columbia University in 2013 and has taught reporting classes as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University. Mark served on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors for four years and oversaw the IRE mentorship program for six years.