Multi-outlet Series

Meanwhile, Smith’s story on chemotherapy drug workers finally ran in July 2010. Publication went according to plan across the partner outlets. Lifesaving Drugs, Deadly Consequences aired on KCTS TV on July 9, followed the next day by a story on Page One in the Seattle Times (under Smith’s byline) and on the paper’s website, together with photos and video by IW freelancers Paul Joseph Brown and Mike Kane. MSNBC.com posted the story on July 11 along with the photos and video. The PBS Newshour also featured the story. All together, IW earned $8,550 for its work.[18]

Hibbard, for one, was pleased to see that IW could work with three marquee media outlets, manage to meet the requirements of each, and achieve some cross promotion.It had taken over a year, but InvestigateWest could finally boast of a joint project with KCTS. Smith recalls:

We wouldn’t have known until we actually got into doing this that we have a really nice fit with broadcast audiences. We each bring something to the table that the other really doesn’t have. They can film stuff and we can report stuff. And while they have reporters, they don’t have enough of their own reporting manpower to do what we do.

Hear Smith on why it made sense to work with a broadcast outlet.

Mid-August 2010 saw the results of another business experiment: a piece by van der Voo on cruise ship pollution. The story played across more than a dozen outlets, including theSpokane Spokesman-Review, thePortland Oregonian, and SeattlePI.com, the post-Post-Intelligencer website.  KCTS ran a segment on the topic and interviewed van der Voo.  

By this stage, the work was steady. In the fall of 2010, thanks to a grant from the charitable foundation of streaming media software company RealNetworks, InvestigateWest and KCTS reported on air pollution in the neighborhoods of South Seattle’s industrial district. In October, KUOW radio aired a documentary by Smith on the effects on children and schools of homelessness among young adults. The piece, reported with funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (via a Seattle University fellowship), also ran online on SeattlePI.com and AOL News, and in print in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

One good story could lead to another. In reporting the homelessness story, Smith had met a couple who had lost their home and jobs in the wake of an addiction that started with prescribed Oxycodone. Around the same time, on July 28, 2010 the New York Times ran an article noting that Washington State's pending prescription laws, if enacted, would be the toughest in the nation. Smith recalls: “Rita [Hibbard] and I were brainstorming a story to take to KCTS, and we felt like there was a deeper explanatory story to be told there about the evolution of the prescription drug problem in our state.” In early 2011, several more InvestigateWest projects ran: on the effects of a loophole in Washington state’s anti-sprawl legislation; air traffic safety (through a collaboration between NPR and INN); cuts in federal and state spending on mental health (produced with CPI); and the health problems of residents near south Seattle’s Duwamish River Superfund Site.[19]

More or less through trial and error, the group had developed a preferred formula: work with a broadcaster on a long-term (typically one-year) contract for several projects, with the flexibility to package the reporting for multiple outlets, including print and online. McClure expands: “What we’ve realized at this point is we need a group of loyal partner news organizations that we can place our material in, and in some cases actually collaborate with. If we can get paid to do the latter, that’s better.”

Moreover, by mid-2011, IW could point to a string of impressive results from its reporting. The Superfund piece prompted the EPA to fund a $100,000 government study of the health risks facing the communities surrounding the site. In April 2011, Washington State enacted a pair of workplace safety laws in response to the previous year’s reporting on chemotherapy providers. Along with the ban on toxic coal-tar sealants and the Reed College reform, this was the kind of impact the group had hoped for.


[18] In addition to the contract partners, a couple of small papers paid an additional $350 total to run the story.

[19] Smith reported the Superfund piece through a California Endowment Health Journalism grant. The California Endowment was a private foundation established in the 1990s as part of Blue Cross of California’s conversion to the for-profit WellPoint Health Networks.