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IowaWatch receives $100,000 grant

BY BRITTANY TILL | AUGUST 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The local nonprofit journalism site IowaWatch.org has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation for the support of long-form explanatory and investigative journalism in Iowa.

This is the organization's first major grant. Until now, it has subsisted on board-member donations, private donations, fellowships from the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates, and a $4,400 grant from the Community Foundation of Johnson County.

IowaWatch started in February 2010, and has since expanded by adding content, interns, and network connections.

Because IowaWatch is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization, the only selling it does is on the belief that news should be honest, truthful and free of advertisements, said University of Iowa Associate Professor Stephen Berry, the group's interim executive director-editor and cofounder.

Berry said IowaWatch's motto is "A vision for a public-spirited free press."

He said their goal is to be able to cover 50 percent of expenditures on their own and cover the other 50 percent with donations.

The recent grant money will go toward hiring a highly accomplished, well-respected professional to lead IowaWatch.

The organization's board members will meet Friday to discuss potential candidates for the position.

Although Berry said he does not plan to be immediately replaced, he would like his possible successor to transform IowaWatch from a "successful pilot project to a permanent self-sustaining journalistic operation."

He believes adding a permanent director will fill a "disturbing" void in the quality and quantity of investigative journalism.

As of now, Berry said, he averages a 100-hour work week, balancing his work with IowaWatch and teaching. He hopes finding a director will assist in relieving him of fundraising and financing responsibilities.

If a new director is named, Berry said he will continue to help out with the program and provide input.

UI journalism Professor Judy Polumbaum, an IowaWatch board member, said the group started as a real "shoestring operation" in a news industry in which old business models are no longer satisfactory and more news organizations are based on nonprofit journalism.

David Schwartz, another IowaWatch board member, said the grant was seen as a sign of encouragement.

"The grant is a vote of confidence for what IowaWatch is and continues to become, a trust in forward thinking for Iowa citizens," he said.


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