In support of a vibrant and fearless free press

Steve Beatty is the publisher and CEO of The Lens. The Lens is currently one of 57 organizations participating in the Knight News Match, a commitment from Knight to match up to $25,000 in donations to select nonprofit news organizations through Jan. 19, 2017.

Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously trumpeted the line, “All politics is local.” Likewise, all journalism is local — and it’s critical to monitoring the politics and policies affecting our communities. 

To effectively serve the people, both politics and journalism are dependent on credible facts and robust discussion. The scourge of fake news — or even shallow, incomplete reporting — can undermine a community’s ability to effectively govern itself. A healthy democracy depends on a vibrant and fearless free press.

With that in mind, we formed The Lens seven years ago as New Orleans’ first nonprofit newsroom, dedicated to providing reliable, public interest reporting that lets readers fully understand important issues so they can better advocate for a more just and accountable government. 

As a nonprofit, we’re freed from most of the market forces that have crippled traditional media and led to the massive loss of reporters nationwide. But it means we rely on the tax-deductible contributions of those who value our unique, award-winning reporting. 

Like NPR or Public Broadcasting Service, this combination allows for high-quality, community-driven reporting that has an impact. Unlike those respected institutions, we get no government support. In fact, we have a policy of not accepting government funding. That lets us keep our focus on our readers. 

With two Pulitzer winners among our eight-person staff, The Lens regularly punches above its weight, leading the coverage in our targeted beats: environmental and coastal policy; government and politics; schools; land use; and criminal justice.

Here are some examples of our impact in the past year:

Environmental reporter Bob Marshall has continued to set the agenda on coastal restoration and climate change. He’s tracked scientific research that shows how climate change will hit Louisiana particularly hard by increasing the severity of storms, raising the Gulf of Mexico, and making it harder to rebuild land and save what’s left. He’s reported on the state’s evolving plans to use river diversions to rebuild land. 

In the city of New Orleans, he’s shown how a new understanding of water management is affecting the ways in which streets and neighborhoods are planned.

Citing The Lens’ reporting, the state Department of Education issued a blistering report in 2016 after a month long investigation. It stated that administrators had inflated their special-education needs in order to get more state funding. The $180,000 in extra funding helped close a budget shortfall. 

The Lens also reported that top leaders at a charter school management organization, failed to alert the state after an employee flagged the problems. The state sanctioned the charter network, and the school was required to make up teaching for many students who were denied services.

Back in 2014, reporter Charles Maldonado looked into a tip from a former Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy that the office was improperly paying some deputies a monthly supplement of up to $500

The money, which comes from the state, is supposed to supplement salaries of law-enforcement officers. But Sheriff Marlin Gusman was giving it to accountants, people who worked in the jail kitchen, administrators, maintenance workers, even the head of the credit union.

Spurred by our reporting, the Louisiana legislative auditor this year concluded that the agency appeared to have paid out $1 million it shouldn’t have over about four years. The state Treasury Department withheld additional payments until Gusman could prove those deputies deserved it.

Without The Lens, these stories would not have been discovered and reported, and the community would have been none the wiser. Because of our journalism, people in the New Orleans area are better informed, and better able to take on whatever 2017 brings. 

Follow Steve Beatty on Twitter @beattylensnola.