I-News: Can Laura Frank's journalism project slow the disappearance of investigative reporting?

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Laura Frank.
With resources and revenues for print and broadcast news operations continuing to shrink, investigative journalism -- a vital form, but among the field's most expensive -- is becoming more rare with each passing day. But former Rocky Mountain News reporter Laura Frank thinks she's found a way to help fill the void: I-News. And a $300,000 grant and the decision of a Denver Post staffer to join her mission suggests she's onto something.

After the Rocky closed in early 2009, a number of news enterprises were launched by its displaced crew members. The most ambitious? InDenver Times, an online operation featuring more than two-dozen ex-staffers. But in the end, the project's backers pulled out after falling approximately 47,000 subscribers short of their goal of 50,000.

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InDenver Times investor Kevin Preblud.
But Frank stresses that I-News is no InDenver Times. In her words, "it's a news collaborative. It's a business-to-business operation.

"I didn't want to try to build a new source for news, and then spend time trying to train people to come to it, and take audience away from other news outlets," she continues. "The idea was to collaborate with those newsrooms and get the news to places where people were already looking for it -- local newspapers or online sources or even mobile sources. And if we could do that, we could immediately begin to address this gap of in-depth coverage we're all struggling from."

Frank developed this formula after being being awarded a Ted Scripps fellowship in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "I applied the week the Rocky closed," she says. "The way it works is, you come to them with a project, and my project was to create I-News. A stipend comes with that fellowship, and it enabled me to keep going through the year."

Along the way, she created a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS, Denver's Channel 6, which provided newsroom space in exchange for being able to use I-News material. In addition, I-News became a founding member of the Investigative News Network. Frank describes it as "a national umbrella group of nonprofit investigative news outlets all over the country. The idea was that a national network could really help nonprofit investigative news outlets in back-office kinds of things -- getting insurance, sharing marketing, whatever. But the really exciting part was, we could collaborate on editorial projects."

Which led to I-News's first report.

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