Brad Hamilton is offering young journalists education and publishing opportunities to widen the scope of investigative journalism.
The media is undergoing a transitional phase where traditional newspapers and magazines don’t see return on investment for investigative journalism. Hatch Institute’s Editor-in-Chief Brad Hamilton, tells Nectar News that it’s expensive to support an investigative team. Not every project is a home run and many news outlets have shut down their investigative units leading us to the development of a new industry for investigate work in the non-profit sector. In an interview with Nectar News, Brad Hamilton discusses the development of the Hatch Institute, a forum for the next generation of public service journalists that exists to nurture the craft of investigative journalism. The Hatch Institute provides a bridge for young journalists who want to enter into investigative journalism by providing them with both a publishing opportunity and an education.
NN: Is the Hatch Institute a brainchild that you were developing in your time working at traditional news outlets?
BH: I had worked for many years for The New York Post both as a full time employee and as a freelancer. My association with the paper goes back to 1987 and it’s still ongoing. In 2013 the paper was undergoing a bit of scaling back, cost saving maneuver and they made an offer to a handful of senior people who had been with the paper for some time and were among the higher earners. I was among the group that was was offered a buyout and a year later I was contacted by Contently which specialized in what was once called Native Advertising. It’s now called Content Marketing or brand storytelling for companies. This business relies heavily on freelance journalists to write stories on behalf of corporate clients and Contently decided in 2014 that they wanted to do something that was purely journalistic. A creation of their own that was intended to be a benefit for this community of freelance reporters and writers. With that in mind they came up with this idea of starting an investigative journalism foundation.
NN: Can you tell us more about this foundation model?
BH: The big player in this industry is ProPublica. The model works by establishing a non-profit that attracts both private and foundation support and uses that funding to commission long form investigative stories. Once those stories are ready for publication they are then partnered with a media outlet. Any outlet from the New York Times to Washington Post and down to smaller outlets and magazines. The pieces are offered for free to the publishing partner and allows for wider readership and more recognition which thereby helps the foundation raise money. Companies like ProPublica, CIR, Marshall Project follow this model with millions in funding. Contently decided that they were going to join this industry by starting a non-profit for investigative reporting and funding it completely by themselves. I was there at the start of the Contently Foundation which launched in 2014 and served as their Editor.
BH: In 2017 Contently and I decided to part ways amicably. I wanted to raise more money for the foundation and couldn’t do so because of the corporate tethering. A connection with a corporate entity made it difficult for me to attract outside funding. Contently handed off the keys to this creation including all of the stories we had done and all of the educational content we produced and I took that over earlier in 2018 renaming the organization The Hatch Institute.
NN: What’s the meaning behind the name?
BH: The name is indicative of what we are trying to do. We hatch ideas, we try to hatch careers and it’s essentially incubator. We publish long form enterprise stories and we do a lot of guiding, coaching, teaching and training for young people and those who are new to investigative work. Our overall mission is to nurture the craft of investigative journalism.
NN: Have education and investigative journalism been elements of your personal interests for a while? How else have you explored the industry?
BH: For a number of years I taught at New York University both Introductory Journalism and Investigative Journalism. My interest has always been there. When I worked at the Post I served as the Investigations Editor which entailed a lot of the work I do now with the Hatch Institute. At The Post I spent a great deal of time assigning and editing long form investigative pieces, but also helping and guiding young people at the paper who had ideas and wanted to do ambitious projects. I also worked with the YMCA of Greater New York and created a journalism program for 5th grade students so I’ve long been interested in the idea of imparting what I know to younger people.
NN: Can you tell me more about the integrity of the work or the creed you follow as an educator? What central themes or sentiment do you send your journalists out into the field with?
BH: Investigative journalism is a speciality and to me it’s the most exciting and most rewarding sector of journalism, but it’s also the most difficult. What we impart is that investigative journalism is like any craft. If you are a carpenter you have various tools that you will use like a hammer, saw, or a wrench. In investigative work it’s the same. The idea behind leading people into this and giving them an idea of what it requires is to let them know that there will be several kinds of tools that they need to become familiar with. Accumulating and analyzing data, submitting freedom of information requests and searching for government documents, for example. Or doing interviews with people who might have sensitive information and might not want to talk to you. All of this is not something that comes naturally and a lot of journalists need help. Questions like, how do I approach someone who is a whistle blower and get them to talk to me or how do I develop a trustworthy law enforcement source or tap into financial records? It’s a mix of imparting these tools while also giving them the opportunity to publish their work. Publishing is a big challenge for young people and freelancers. It’s a competitive landscape and the question is, how do you get your work published and make a mark for yourself? One other thing to note is that, at The Hatch Institute, we educate, train and support but we also pay our writers. We commission these pieces. Working for us means that you’ll spend a long period of time on one story, you will acquire the necessary tools to do the job but also at the end of the day you’ll end up with a published story that allows you to pursue other work.
NN: How easy is it for you to garner support to be able to fund these initiatives?
BH: It’s not easy at all. When I took control over the organization and renamed it The Hatch Institute I knew that part of my challenge would be to become a fundraiser. Becoming a fundraiser is an entirely different feat and is completely separate from journalism. I sometimes liken the change to someone who’s been a baker their whole life and now they have to become a plumber. It’s a completely different profession, they have to learn an entirely new set of skills and honestly, I’m learning on the go. I have received some support from individuals I know who have some disposable income and are willing to support the organization. We have also received funding from Google and the Gannett Foundation but we’re in the early stages of building out the fundraising component of what we do. Even people who have been very successful at fundraising for investigative journalism, non profits like Pro Publica or the Ground Truth Project, will tell you it’s hard for them as well even though they’ve raised collectively millions of dollars.
NN: How do you reinforce the value of what the Hatch Institute offers when speaking to potential sponsors?
BH: The first thing to say is that the last year, more so than any year in American history, has shown us the value of investigative work. So many issues have become a part of the public discourse because of investigative work. For example, the #MeToo movement, the threat of gun violence just to name two things that have become major issues. These large public discussion became major issues because of investigative work. What we do that’s different from some of the more established companies in the industry is that we work with freelancers. We work with independent professionals, young journalists and we work with people who are new to this form of journalism altogether. We provide a sort of bridge for people who want to get into the field by providing them with a publishing opportunity and an education.