InvestigateWest Final Report: Sometimes A Change in Plans Can Be Good

InvestigateWest’s collaboration with a local media partner didn’t turn out as planned.

But the two organizations that amped up their partnership through an INNovation Fund grant are now working on something potentially even bigger.

In April 2014, InvestigateWest received a $15,000 grant from the INNovation Fund to create a new branded series with KUOW that would combine InvestigateWest’s reporting with the public radio station’s larger audience.

InvestigateWest and a working group at Seattle public radio station KUOW held a series of in-person meetings and teleconferences in summer 2014 to refine the goals and revenue strategies of the project, and develop editorial guidelines of an ongoing collaboration to bring high-quality investigative journalism to public radio in Seattle.

In September 2014, the organizations hosted a two-day project kickoff with InvestigateWest staff and a dozen stakeholders from KUOW, representing editorial, engagement, underwriting and digital departments. Three outside contributors/advisors also participated: Joaquin Alvarado and Susanne Reber of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Chris Phillips of Pyramid Communications.

Following the two-day kickoff, InvestigateWest moved forward with product development and their first editorial collaboration under the banner of the new project, based on feedback received from the team and advisors.

“The Dig” was chosen as a name and a brand memo was passed along to the designer to develop a wordmark and style guide. Concurrently, the newsrooms developed several story ideas for the first collaboration under the new brand, and chose to report on rising homelessness in Seattle a decade after the city was one of the first to adopt a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

The initial intent with this project was to solicit on-air underwriting support for the series, a plan that had the backing of the editorial and underwriting teams at KUOW. However after the September meetings KUOW decided on their own to eliminate adjacent underwriting as a potential source of revenue, along with any special on-air branding for the series.

The first editorial collaboration aired in March 2015, a weeklong examination of why and how Seattle’s homeless population is greater than a decade ago, when the city set the leading edge of progressive housing policy with the launch of a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Seattle and King County. The collaboration was published on the InvestigateWest website and the KUOW website. It aired in the local market and in two segments nationally on NPR’s All Things Considered, which sparked more than 500 comments on NPR’s website.

The original benchmark of success — create a revenue-generating platform for investigative journalism — was not reached during the grant period.

Instead, the relationship building and the product development work funded by the grant prompted KUOW to approach InvestigateWest with an even more ambitious proposal to collaborate on bringing investigative journalism to public radio. Rather than the quarterly series backed by underwriting money InvestigateWest originally envisioned, they have been working with senior leadership at the station to explore how to get InvestigateWest-led stories on the air more often with individual member support.