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Keeping Watch on News in California

CA Watch Reporters

These days it's not easy to find an investigative reporter at a major news organization. In recent years, traditional media companies have cut back on in-depth investigations in favor of producing bite-size headlines and 140-character news blurbs.

But that certainly doesn't mean the need for investigative reporters has disappeared; they can provide a vital service, combing through avalanches of information and pulling out stories that impact a community. The team at California Watch is among the best at performing that important duty. The organization has partnered with KQED for several insightful reports in recent months, and continues to shed light on issues that are at times overlooked by other media outlets.

Michael Montgomery, a producer-reporter for KQED News and California Watch, recently answered some questions about the organization and its work.

Tell me a little about California Watch and its history.
California Watch was launched in 2009 by the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting, the country's oldest nonprofit investigative news organization. It's a growing team of reporters and editors that pursues in-depth, high-impact reporting on issues such as education, public safety, health care, and the environment.
The key to California Watch's success in getting stories to a large audience is through partnerships with newspapers, television and public radio stations like KQED. The group's editorial collaboration with KQED was the first of its kind in the nation.

Why is a project like California Watch needed in today's busy news world?
There is certainly a lot of information available through a wide variety of media, much of it driven by the Internet, but the sad reality is that investigative reporting is increasingly treated as expensive and expendable. What's more, some outlets no longer have reporters in Sacramento, so even daily coverage of state institutions has suffered.
California Watch's solution was to build a strong team of editors and beat reporters based in Sacramento. The team's focus is on statewide issues that impact the quality of life for Californians and our communities.

What are some of the most memorable stories California Watch has covered?
California Watch reporters have exposed systemic problems in hospitals and nursing homes, scams in the state's medical marijuana program, rip-offs by city employees, possible fraud in state agencies, and a range of questionable decisions that have impacted the safety of children in public schools. Perhaps one of the most moving and troubling stories was an investigation into rising maternal mortality rates across the state.

What type of reaction and results has California Watch's reporting generated?
One of California Watch's most ambitious investigations earlier this year revealed systemic problems in the state agency responsible for ensuring that public schools meet the highest earthquake safety standards. The investigation found some 20,000 school projects have not been certified by state regulators and could be vulnerable in a strong quake. What's more, we found that millions of dollars approved by voters to retrofit at-risk schools has never been spent due to stringent criteria established by the state.
Our series On Shaky Ground (kqed.org/onshakyground/) prompted the state legislature to look into these problems and spurred one agency to make changes that could get more money to older schools to pay for retrofit projects. Legislators are also pressing the state to audit the agency that oversees seismic safety laws in public schools.

What does KQED's partnership with California Watch mean for listeners and viewers?
KQED's partnership with California Watch is unique. It allows KQED to expand its news-gathering capacity to include the work of a talented and motivated team of investigative reporters. It also helps California Watch stories reach a large, statewide audience.
To make the collaboration work smoothly, a producer-reporter divides his time between the two newsrooms, keeping track of stories and investigations as they develop.

 

 

Photo caption: Print, radio, and television reporters for California Watch and KQED News gather outside Southeast High School in South Gate while working on a project in December 2010.

Photo credit: Yuli Weeks.

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