SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



Newspaper-closing casualty regroups, returns with InvestigateWest

By Billy O'Keefe

By Anthony Fenech
Rita Hibbard didn’t realize how much she loved journalism until she lost her job.

Rita Hibbard, executive director of InvestigativeWest, discusses her nonprofit investigative organization, InvestigativeWest. (TWANA PINSKEY / The Working Press)

Rita Hibbard, executive director of InvestigativeWest, discusses her nonprofit investigative organization, InvestigativeWest. (TWANA PINSKEY / The Working Press)

Hibbard was assistant managing editor for news at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when the newspaper closed its doors in 2009. On Monday, at the Society of Professional Journalists conference, she summed up those feelings by displaying a picture of a young girl shielding her face from a wicked rainstorm.
“Doing a good job isn’t good enough,” she said, at the “Crap! My Paper Closed!” session.
Hibbard led staff investigations that won several prestigious awards, including the 2009 George Polk Award for Military Reporting and the 2009 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“Doing good journalism is important, but it’s not enough,” she said. “It’s not enough for survival.”
In the hourlong workshop, Hibbard detailed how she rebounded from her job loss by founding a startup investigative news organization called InvestigateWest.
InvestigateWest is comprised of three staff members, three contributors, four student interns and a host of board members spread across the country. The site is gaining attention in media circles around the Pacific Northwest – a region that, according to Hibbard, lost 35,000 jobs between September 2008 and August 2009, and 1,000 journalism jobs since 2004.
“It’s all a risk,” she said. “From day one, part of that risk is being willing to change.”
And the risk seems to be paying off.
The organization’s first story, an investigation into health care workers’ exposure to chemotherapy that resulted in cancer, was sold to MSNBC.com.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Lucy Reed, who attended the session. “Obviously she has passion and wasn’t going to give up no matter what. She’s doing this and making it work.”
InvestigateWest tries to work every story into multiple platforms, and the non-profit organization collaborates with other news organizations to spread its name.
“It’s all about learning,” Hibbard said. “Learning new business models as the industry is in transit.”
Other stories InvestigateWest has covered include cruise lines dodging state rules by dumping water in Canada and sexual assaults on college campuses.
Despite the long and difficult hours, along with challenges such as gaining familiarity with the public, building social networks and learning new business skills, Hibbard summed up her present-day feelings with a picture of a beach, which she calls her “sabbatical.”
“I don’t think I’m out of the storm yet,” Hibbard said. “Just a little sheltered and a lot happier.”
To learn more about InvestigateWest, visit www.invw.org.




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