Center for Investigative Reporting, California Watch

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Ongoing Evaluation
Author Organization
LFA Group: Learning for Action
Author Organization URL
Publication Date
Journalism, Media Innovation


To launch California Watch, a nonprofit investigative reporting collaborative in California run through the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) that covers issues such as education, public safety, health care and the environment in California.


The evaluation sought to answer the following questions about program successes and challenges:

  • Is the California Watch reporting model and content improving media coverage of key issues in California? 

  • Has California Watch informed and engaged Californians by providing in-depth information on and analysis of important issues, distributed on multiple media platforms?

  • Has California Watch established an innovative and sustainable business model for regional news in California? The evaluation partner surveyed of media partners, analyzed California Watch media tracking data, and interviewed thought leaders, freelance journalists, journalism student partners, and California Watch funders and staff. Evaluator: LFA Group


The interim report focused on outputs and implementation milestones. As the evaluation continues, it will examine the project’s impact on communities and audiences.

Key findings to date included:

  • Program Reach – California Watch emerged as a key part of the investigative journalism landscape, forging partnerships with 70 media outlets. The 31 in-depth investigations it conducted in the first year resulted in 237 pieces of content distributed by partners.

  • Flexible Model Distribution – Stories were edited multiple times to give partners choice for length, format and platform. One particular story on Homeland Security spending was produced in 15 formats and ran on the front page of 25 Californian newspapers, reaching 1.8 million people. Meanwhile, California Watch could involve partners earlier in the reporting process and provide advance notice on stories so partners can prepare for any work involved in localizing stories.

  • Multimedia Storytelling – Every story produced by California Watch combined several types of multimedia packages (e.g., print, audio, video and web components) which made its content attractive to several types of partners. A strong partnership with KQED Public Radio resulted in 14 radio reports, and 13 pieces were produced for television outlets. Meanwhile, staff can build on their existing multimedia model by experimenting with new distribution platforms, such as mobile and social media, or revamping the web site as a communications hub.

  • Brand Value –California Watch is recognized as a trusted source of high-quality reporting, and more than half of California Watch partners feel it provides coverage on stories they could not have covered themselves. However, since heavily-branded media partners often distribute its content, it may struggle to gain further recognition which could ultimately hamper efforts to raise revenue.

  • Revenue-Generating Strategies – The California Watch model requires that most partners purchase stories for a fee (or in exchange for other resources, such as translation services provided by a partnership with La Opinión). This has allowed California Watch to establish a value for its coverage, and provide a new business model for journalism. California Watch continues to explore new revenue streams through advertising, sponsorships and developing and licensing new digital applications, and has engaged a business consultant to identify a sustainable price structure.

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