Column: Newspaper launches fund for public service and investigative journalism | Special reports
“Truth is our standard” and “facts are not free”.
Prepare to hear these phrases a lot in the days, weeks and months to come as the Aiken Standard and The Star of North Augusta launch our Public Service and Investigation Fund.
Today’s report on an investigation into the Town of Wagener’s finances, with a sharp look at the spending practices of firefighters, is the first of many planned articles our team of journalists will be producing in the coming months.
It would be easy to say that reporter Dede Biles spent most of a month working on today’s bundle of stories. That would be correct. But the truth is, she’s been covering Aiken County for years, and problems in Wagener come to the surface every now and then. It all came to a head last fall with the layoffs of the two main people in the fire department, and earlier this year the county launched its own investigation into how the money was being spent.
Doing this type of journalism can be both time consuming and expensive. Dede has filed several Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to Wagener. It should be noted that the Mayor of Wagener, Mike Miller, provided the Aiken Standard with a free USB drive containing many documents used in our history. But we still have FOIA requests pending, for Wagener and other topics, which could cost thousands of dollars.
If you know me, you know that I would rather have a root canal than ask for money. But funding this type of journalism is extremely important, and we wouldn’t ask for help if it wasn’t needed. Publisher Rhonda Overbey and I plan to do presentations all over the county on what we’re doing; let us know if your organization would like to hear from us.
For over 150 years, the Aiken Standard has been a trusted source of information for Aiken County. For The Star, it’s been on the northern Augusta scene for over 60 years. Having a healthy news gathering organization is an essential part of the democratic process and helps to make a difference in our communities.
We will continue to do all the “little” things you expect. But these deeper dives into investigative reporting and public service journalism are also an essential part of our mission. Ultimately, we believe that this type of work will help empower our elected officials and shine the light where there is darkness.
Many people at Aiken Standard worked very hard to get this project off the ground. Our editor challenged me and the senior newsroom editors to identify articles that would fall into the categories of public service or investigative. This is exactly what we have done and we have some interesting projects in the works.
Here are some of the people who have contributed to Dede’s story along the way:
Editor-in-chief Holly Kemp hosted discussion meetings and asked important questions. Media editor Eric Russell made sure the digital components of the campaign were in place and also provided valuable input at planning meetings. Night editor Shana Donahue printed out all of the Wagener related materials and organized them for Dede. Presentation editor Karen Klock and her team made the design of the printed pages shine.
On the marketing / promotion side, Gabby Boardman and Melinda Caldwell led the effort to produce materials to help publicize the Civil Service and Investigations Fund. Many other members of our organization were also involved, and many more will contribute in the future.
To find out more or make a tax-deductible donation, visit aikenstandard.com/pledge.
Thanks for reading.