Inside the News Room
 

Now in our fourth year, The Lens has new website, office, funding

Welcome to the redesigned website of The Lens, which is just the most visible of many changes to our news operation.

In addition to our new logo and look, we’re proud to announce:

  • A broad, new environmental reporting effort led by an expert in the field
  • A daily newsletter to bring you different perspectives on our key topics
  • A second office that creates a university partnership
  • An important seal of approval as a tax-exempt nonprofit by the IRS that makes it easier for you to donate to The Lens
  • New financial supporters that will allow us to continue to expand our award-winning staff.

What remains unchanged, though, is our commitment to unique, in-depth coverage of issues important to the New Orleans region. As the city’s first nonprofit newsroom, our mission is to educate, engage and empower our readers with the kind of public-interest stories that can lead to a more just and accountable government structure and make a difference in our community.

We’re an online newsroom, but we’re acutely aware that New Orleans has a relatively low rate of broadband Internet access. That’s why we’ve forged strong partnerships with television, radio and print partners, and we’re working to expand our reach further. And it’s why our new website was designed with smart phones in mind.

Here’s a rundown of our most notable changes.

Our website

The new site automatically adjusts to fit screens, whether you’re using an iPad, an Android tablet, an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S III. If you’re reading this on a computer, resize your browser window to see how it reacts.

We’ve used larger type, a clean, distraction-free layout and an added ability to highlight important facts and figures within stories.

The Lens’ Charter School Reporting Corps has become the pre-eminent source of information about the charter schools in New Orleans: For the past two years, we’ve covered nearly every meeting of the more than 40 charter boards in the city. No other news source comes close. This coverage has been integrated into the rest of the site and given more prominence on the home page. The individual school pages have been redesigned to provide essential information on each school. And readers can continue to subscribe to email alerts for one or many schools.

A new navigation enables us to highlight our ongoing stories and investigations, which means users can spend less time looking for the stories and more time reading and sharing them.

We’re not done yet. We’ve placed new priority on giving people access to primary source documents. Upcoming changes will provide users even more access to documents, including public records that are harder to get than they should be.

The home page also features Muckreads, ProPublica’s selections of the best watchdog reporting from around the country.

The new site is the product of cooperation among nonprofits. It is based on Project Largo, a WordPress theme developed by the Investigative News Network. And that’s an extension of National Public Radio’s Project Argo. The Lens will work with the network to help improve the Largo theme and lower the costs of high-quality publishing for other sites. The Lens thanks the network for extensive technical guidance throughout the process, as well as Assembled, which designed the site and our new logo, and Carrollton Group, which coded everything.

The Coastal Desk

Last month, we announced the hiring of Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporter Bob Marshall. Since then, his expertise in the field has attracted new donors to The Lens, including the National Wildlife Federation who will make it possible for Marshall to assemble a team of freelance reporters to cover the critically important topics of coastal erosion, wetlands restoration and flood protection.

Marshall will work with up-and-coming journalists in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to cover critical public meetings that don’t always get attention from traditional media. A new partnership with Loyola University’s School of Mass Communication – more on that below – will let Marshall help train the next generation of reporters, ensuring that environmental reporting does not fall by the wayside.

What We’re Reading, our daily newsletter

A new feature highlights the best local and national journalism of interest to New Orleanians, focused on The Lens’ five topic areas: criminal justice, government and politics, land use, environment, and schools. Each morning, Mark Moseley scours local and national news sites and highlights the most interesting items. An email digest will land in subscribers’ boxes around noon. Sign up now. The stories are also featured on our home page.

New office, new partnership

When we started three years ago, The Lens was a staff of four people, and we rented a handful of desks in the WVUE-TV newsroom. We’ve now grown to 11, with plans for more, so we’ve opened a second office at Loyola University. Reporters and editors move between the two offices, bringing a working newsroom to the School of Mass Communication.

This symbiotic relationship will provide The Lens with more interns and freelance reporters, and it gives students the chance to learn from and work with professionals and build their portfolios. This relationship will be the basis for Marshall’s work with The Coastal Desk.

Easier to support us

Though we enjoy generous support from national foundations, we can’t do our work without the financial support of our steadily expanding base of loyal readers. Supporters can now set up a recurring donation for as little as $5 a month. Further changes on the way will give you more flexibility in how you donate to The Lens. In December, the IRS granted The Lens its 501(c)(3) status, ensuring that your donations are tax deductible. Please consider supporting us today.

They believe in us

Working in conjunction with Friends of Quality Reporting, The Lens in recent months has received more than $1 million in multi-year pledges from individuals as well as foundations, including:

  • Baptist Community Ministries
  • Surdna Foundation
  • Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation
  • Open Society Foundations
  • The Greater New Orleans Foundation
  • The Knight Foundation
  • The Ella West Freeman Foundation
  • The Keller Foundation

The nonprofit Friends of Quality Reporting was formed in the wake of changes announced by The Times-Picayune. Its mission is to support high-level journalism that both reveals problems and offers solutions.

Baptist Community Ministries, one of the largest philanthropies in the New Orleans region, has recently granted The Lens $100,000 to increase its government accountability reporting, with the option of two additional years of support at the same level. The Lens will hire a reporter for this beat in the coming weeks.

The Surdna Foundation provided a fourth year of support to The Lens, with a $75,000 grant to underwrite reporting and business development. The foundation has supported The Lens since its inception, previously providing three grants totaling $300,000.

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation has increased its operational support of The Lens with a second annual grant. In its first grant in 2012, the foundation provided $85,000; for 2013, it donated $100,000.

The Open Society Foundations, The Lens’ first funder, is continuing its general-operating support with the second year of a two-year grant, worth $200,000 for 2013.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation in December continued its commitment to the Charter School Reporting Corps, with a $10,000 gift from its IMPACT Grant program. This is the second year the foundation has supported the charter program.

A grant from the Knight Foundation, in partnership with WWNO-FM, will provide The Lens with a $10,000 match in 2013 to hire a part-time radio producer to get our stories on the air.

Additional local foundation support recently was granted by the Ella West Freeman Foundation, with $10,000. The Keller Foundation provided a second year of $5,000 support for 2013.

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  • Alan Maclachlan

    Congratulations to The Lens on the exponential growth of your endeavor and above all thanks for your commitment to in-depth investigative reporting “without fear or favor,” to borrow an old catch-phrase. Given the extent and complexity of the public and private sector shenanigans which take place in this town it is essential that there be at least one entity devoted to the cause of following the evidence wherever it leads rather than just fattening someone’s bottom line. Looks like you’re it! Keep up the good work…..