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Aug. 31, 2009, 11:22 a.m.

The promise of a newspaper’s investigative spinoff

The latest edition of American Journalism Review has an in-depth piece on the thinking behind the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s willingness to spin off (though that’s not the official phraseology) its investigative team as an independent nonprofit, the Watchdog Institute.

Rather than wait for the ax to fall on her four-person team, investigative editor Lorie Hearn did the deed on her own terms — terms that allow her team to publishing their work in the U-T, but also getting the team off the publisher’s books. As part of the new relationship, the Union-Tribune will pay the new nonprofit a substantial amount of money. In return, the U-T gets first dibs on a specified number of investigative stories. But Hearn also has freedom to shop stories around to other media — and to develop her own philanthropic base. She already has one donor.

(Hearn made the deal with a representative of Platinum Equity, the Beverly Hills buyout firm that recently bought the U-T and currently is bidding for the Boston Globe.)

Can this kind of partnership help work, for both journalists and publishers on a broader scale? We’ll see. But Hearn clearly sees the arrangement as a win-win. “I’m not abandoning the Union-Tribune,” Hearn tells AJR. says. “I am actually doing this because I want to help it survive.”

POSTED     Aug. 31, 2009, 11:22 a.m.
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