The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) is a nonprofit news organization based in Emeryville, California, and has conducted investigative journalism since 1977. It is known for producing stories that reveal scandals or corruption in government agencies and corporations. In 2010, CIR launched its California Watch reporting project; in 2012, it merged with The Bay Citizen; in 2015 it launched an hour-long public radio program, Reveal. Its 2016 budget is approximately $9.3 million. The current business model emphasizes cooperation with partners and other news outlets rather than competition. Robert Jon Rosenthal has been the executive director of the Center since 2007. Phil Bronstein is the organization’s executive chair.
David Weir, Dan Noyes, and Lowell Bergman founded the Center for Investigative Reporting in 1977. The main offices were in downtown Oakland, California. The Center’s first large investigation exposed the criminal activity of the Black Panther Party, a subject the organization revisited in 2012.
In 1982, a story published in Mother Jones magazine revealed testing fraud in consumer products. The center worked together with the magazine to produce the story. The investigation won several awards, including Sigma Delta Chi and Investigative Reporters and Editors awards.
CIR began producing television documentaries in 1980 and has since produced more than 30 documentaries for Frontline and Frontline/World, dozens of reports for other television outlets and three independent feature documentaries. ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s 60 Minutes have featured reporting from CIR. Major stories in the 80s included studies of the toxicity of ordinary consumer products, an exposé of nuclear accidents in the world’s navies, and coverage of questionable tactics by the FBI during the Reagan administration.
In 1990, CIR produced its first independent TV documentary, Global Dumping Ground, reported by Bill Moyers on PBS’s Frontline. The film spurred federal investigations and was rebroadcast in at least 18 nations.
In 1992, CIR produced The Best Campaign Money Can Buy for FRONTLINE, an investigation of the top funders of the presidential campaign. With correspondent Robert Krulwich. Produced by Stephen Talbot with reporters Eve Pell and Dan Noyes. The documentary won a DuPont/Columbia Journalism Award.
Other notable CIR reports included a look at the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, as well as a study of education and race in an urban high school, "School Colors." An investigation for the New York Daily News and Fox’s Front Page revealed lethal dangers in a common diet drug.
In 2005, the Center’s investigations into wiretapping and data mining prompted Congressional hearings on privacy. The Center also exposed the forensic practices of the FBI that resulted in false imprisonments.
Robert J. Rosenthal became executive director of the Center in 2007. He had more than thirty years of experience as a journalist and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe and The New York Times.
In 2010, the Center released the documentary film, Dirty Business, which exposed the myth of clean coal and the lobbying tactics of the coal industry.
Today, the organization's stories regularly appear in news outlets around the country and in California including NPR News, PBS Frontline, PBS NEWSHOUR, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Beast, Al Jazeera English and American Public Media's Marketplace.
In April 2012, it partnered with Google to host “TechRaking”, an informal conference that brought together journalists and technologists. In September 2012, the second “TechRaking” brought together journalists and gamers, at IGN in San Francisco.
Merger with the Bay Citizen
In 2009, the Center for Investigative Reporting created California Watch, a reporting team dedicated to state-focused stories. Its website launched in 2010. Editorial director Mark Katches explained that the site would function as a watchdog team focusing on government oversight, criminal justice, education, health and the environment. In 2010, the Online News Association honored California Watch with a general excellence award. In 2012, California Watch won the George Polk Award for its series on Medicare billing fraud. The authors of the series were Christina Jewett, Lance Williams and Stephen Doig. California Watch also was a Pulitzer finalist for its "On Shaky Ground" series by Corey G. Johnson, Erica Perez, Kendall Taggart and Agustin Armendariz. The series detailed flaws in state oversight of seismic safety at K-12 schools. The "On Shaky Ground" reporting team won a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Public Service. California Watch won a second Polk award in 2012, this time for Ryan Gabrielson's series about the failures of a unique police force to solve crimes committed against the developmentally disabled living in state board-and-care hospitals. The series also won an Online Journalism Award from the Online News Association.
In August 2012, the Center for Investigative Reporting created “The I Files” channel on YouTube. The Knight Foundation provided an $800,000 grant to make the channel possible. The channel presents investigative video from a variety of news outlets, including The New York Times, BBC, Al Jazeera English, ABC News, National Public Radio, and members organizations of the Investigative News Network.
The Center for Investigative Reporting relies heavily on foundation grants and individual donations to fund its efforts. In addition to publishing reports directly on its site, the Center produces content for a wide range of other news outlets, including local TV affiliates, newspapers, public radio, and PBS. More recently, the Center has invested in multimedia, particularly video, as a means of reaching bigger audiences and producing a new revenue stream.
Awards and recognition
In 2012, the Center for Investigative Reporting received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Leadership. The award is a monetary prize from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Center received a prize of $1 million. Executive Director Robert Rosenthal explained that the money would go toward new forms of video distribution. With the prize, the Center also plans to improve its technology and create a fund for innovative projects in the future.
CIR stories have received numerous journalism awards including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, George Polk Award, Emmy Award, Scripps Howard Award and numerous Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards. Additionally, it received a Peabody Award in 2013 for the Reveal show "The VA's Opiate Overload". In 2012, its “On Shaky Ground” investigation was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
- The Boomerang Crime, by David Weir, Mark Shapiro and Terry Jacobs. Published in Mother Jones.
- ABC’s 20/20 showcases CIR story of how the UN’s “International Year of the Child” was instead a front for illegal gun and drug trafficking.
- Operation Wigwam exposed the cover up of potential ill effects from an underwater nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean.
- Citizen Scaife, by Karen Rothmyer, appears in the Columbia Journalism Review and The Washington Post.
- The Illusion of Safety, by Douglas Foster and Mark Dowie. Appears in Mother Jones.
- The Bad Drug, a report featured on 60 Minutes about the dangers of blood pressure drug Selacryn.
- The Nuclear Navy, an explosive report on the thirty-year history of naval nuclear accidents, makes headlines worldwide.
- Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden - Treatment of Veteran Who Shot bin Laden by Phil Bronstein. Published in Esquire.
- The Best Campaign Money Can Buy, an investigation of top donors to the presidential race, produced for Frontline by Stephen Talbot.
- The Heartbeat of America, an investigation of General Motors produced for Frontline. Producer: Stephen Talbot.
- Who’s Watching the Watchdog, a look at the Better Business Bureau, by Richard H.P. Sia.
- Hot Guns, a Frontline and CIR story on cheap handguns.
- Justice for Sale, explores corruption in America’s court system. Producers: Stephen Talbot and Sheila Kaplan.
- Tobacco Traffic, by Mark Schapiro and producer Oriana Zill de Granados, explores illegal smuggling. Print story “Big Tobacco” appears in The Nation.
- Reasonable Doubt, a CNN documentary on shoddy forensic science at the FBI.
- No Place to Hide, by Robert O’Harrow Jr., an investigation of government data mining as part of the war on terror.
- Conflicts on the Bench, reveals ethics violations by Bush court nominees. Will Evans partnered with Salon.com.
- Banished, an independent film on race relations in small towns, produced by CIR, premieres at 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
- The Chauncey Bailey Project, a joint investigation made possible by the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Newspaper Guild and The California Endowment. Investigators sought answers in the assassination of editor Chauncey Bailey.
- Carbon Watch, a project tracking various aspects of global warming science and policy.
- The Civil Rights Cold Case Project, a team effort involving CIR, the Concordia Sentinel, The Clarion-Ledger, The Anniston Star, the Detroit Free Press, hungryblues.net, and Paperny Films of Vancouver, BC.
- Dirty Business, a documentary film narrated by “Big Coal” author Jeff Goodell.