Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting wins MacArthur grant

The Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting is starting its 35th anniversary off right with a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The center, which is the oldest of its kind in the United States, was the recipient of the foundation’s 2012 Creative and Effective Institutions grant, awarded to organizations that “provide new ways of looking at persistent problems,” according to the foundation’s website.

According to the center’s executive director, Robert Rosenthal, the center — which recently announced a merger with another local news agency, The Bay Citizen — plans on using the money for new programs focusing on videos and breaking down data to make them more accessible to the public. A part of the grant’s stipulation is that the money cannot be used for existing programs, Rosenthal added.

“It’s a tremendous tribute to the hard work and creativity of the staff and the passion for what we do,” Rosenthal said.

The MacArthur Foundation normally chooses 10 to 15 organizations every year for this grant, according to Steve Richards, the foundation’s department administrator for grant management.

“We look for organizations that are doing a lot of original things and ones that are doing work that’s closely aligned with the interests of the foundation,” Richards said.

Of this year’s Creative and Effective Institution grant winners, the Center for Investigative Reporting was the only journalistic agency chosen, Rosenthal said. However, it is not unusual for the MacArthur Foundation to dispense grants to journalistic institutions, according to Richards.

“If you look at who got this grant in this round, there are no other journalism organizations,” Rosenthal said. “The other organizations (that won this year) do remarkable work around the world, so we’re really honored.”

Rosenthal attributed the center’s success in attaining a grant to intensive efforts to develop a high level of credibility and trust by making a 180-degree turn in the past couple years.

“We’ve shown a tremendous amount of ability to adapt and change our strategies and really innovate in our way we tell investigative stories on nearly every platform,” Rosenthal said. “They’ve also seen an organization that, in four years, had a very difficult and complicated time, which has grown from an organization from seven people to an organization that has 40 people.”

Jaehak Yu covers city government.