Inside the News Room
 

Charting a path forward for The Lens, New Orleans’ nonprofit source of investigative journalism

Building on the most successful year in our history, The Lens is announcing a significant shake-up of editorial and administrative structures.

  • We are committing to deeper coverage of New Orleans culture, in particular the economics and regulation of our tourism, dining, arts and music.
  • Veteran reporter Charles Maldonado will take charge of the newsroom as editor Steve Myers departs for Harvard on a Nieman Fellowship.
  • Lens founder Karen Gadbois is reactivating her prize-winning coverage of land use, an issue at the heart of city politics and our viability as a habitable landscape at a time of onrushing climate change. We remain committed to our current subject areas.
  • The Lens is instituting an internship program through which we will work with university students seeking firsthand experience in the production, support and promotion of top-notch government accountability reporting.
  • Our volunteer board of directors* is being expanded to include new members from New Orleans as well as New York and Los Angeles, with records of success in fundraising, preservation, media and commentary.
  • After a year of soul-searching and experiments in different models of administrative leadership, we welcome veteran New York City magazine editor Martin Pedersen as our acting executive director.
Why the changes? In the words of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

It’s not as if The Lens didn’t have plenty to celebrate as our eighth birthday rolled around earlier this year:

  • A lengthening roster of great investigative stories — from fake subpoenas issued by local district attorneys to fake audiences seated at City Council meetings in support of Entergy’s plan to build a new power plant. These were among stories that forced abrupt change in local governance and law enforcement. Other media outlets followed our lead, and the stories saw widespread readership locally and nationally.
  • Continuing industry honors, including awards for the best investigative work among city media, an award from Innocence Project New Orleans, and national recognition by Investigative Reporters and Editors, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting nationwide.
  • The site’s sustained reputation as the most comprehensive source of news about New Orleans’ creative and controversial school-reform effort, a testing ground for the national charter school movement.
  • A base of dedicated readers.
  • The award of a Nieman Fellowship for our hard-driving editor, Steve Myers.
  • Completion of the most successful year-end fund-drive in our history, followed by our most successful spring campaign ever.
  • And not least, the loyalty and dedication of staff and freelance reporters at a time of severe financial challenges.

So why are we continuing a yearlong process of shaking up our administrative ranks? We’ll get quickly and bluntly to the point:

In an era of “fake news” and the shift to digital delivery systems, journalism everywhere is in a struggle to reinvent itself. From its inception in 2010 as New Orleans’ first nonprofit news site, The Lens has been a cutting-edge response to that challenge. It’s a challenge made only more urgent by the atrophy of daily newspapers and the substantial investigative teams they once fielded.

As for-profit journalism casts about for a business model that will save it, donor-dependent journalism faces challenges of its own.

To sustain and expand support by the national foundations that have made our success possible, The Lens needs to demonstrate significantly greater backing at the local level, by individuals and sponsors within our core readership.

New Orleans needs to show it values The Lens, not just by reading it and reacting to our exposés — whether angrily or with kudos — but by backing our nonprofit news site with the resources and word-of-mouth support it needs to continue delivering groundbreaking journalism.

The Lens has responded to these challenges by tightening spending and eliminating the position of executive director from our payroll. Following the resignation of Interim Executive Director Nicholas Peddle, Board Chairman Martin Pedersen has taken charge of day-to-day managerial duties on an unsalaried basis. During his year at Harvard, Myers will avail himself — and The Lens — of the opportunity to develop additional strategies for sustaining and bolstering nonprofit investigative journalism.

A sense of urgency is invigorating The Lens. We need people who care about our mission to step forward and assure that this makeover can continue.

You can help. Tell your civically-engaged friends and neighbors about how The Lens is doing the journalism that fosters functional, accountable government. Sign up for our newsletters. And become a monthly donor.

*Our expanding board currently comprises Martin Pedersen, chairman; Ariella Cohen, Lens co-founder; retired CPA Beverly Nichols; New Orleans attorney John Joyce; New York City journalist and author Roberta Gratz; and radio personality, filmmaker and philanthropist Harry Shearer.

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