A sign of sweet justice appears in the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald today. Dan Christensen, founder of the nonprofit investigative news site Broward Bulldog, reports on a scandal in Broward's wealthiest circles.
A legal battle is brewing between Barbara Wells, the Broward heiress whose family fortune includes the historic Riverside Hotel and much of the property in the Las Olas shopping district, and her former right-hand man, Irving Bowen. Wells is suing Bowen, the former president of The Las Olas Company, accusing him of "squandering tens of millions of dollars and 'running the company into the ground,'" according to the article.
Christensen's report is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, because Christensen, an investigative reporter with 30 years of experience, was laid off from the Herald this spring, and now the paper is eager for his reporting. Second, because the same
story appeared in both the Sentinel and Herald -- a sign of the content- sharing that's now rampant at the once-competitive papers. And third, because this is the first time the Herald has borrowed a story from the Bulldog, a site that's part of a national trend in investigative news -- nonprofit, online sites that allow their stories to be distributed through many media platforms.
As New Times reported in last week's cover story, South Florida's daily newspapers have been shrinking, losing money, and laying off staff at an alarming pace in the last couple of years. Longtime staffers such as Christensen have been leaving -- through buyouts and layoffs -- in droves, and their absence is evident as the dailies publish fewer in-depth, investigative stories.
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With the Bulldog, Christensen is providing an alternative to the fish wrapper model of journalism. He's still trying to raise money to fund the site, and isn't sure how long he can keep up the operation without more dough, but meanwhile, he's shaking up the traditional journalism establishment by scooping the dailies on juicy stories.
He's at the cutting edge of a national experiment, as nonprofit news organizations from Denver to Wisconsin test out new models for finding funding and sharing content with other media outlets.In San Diego, the recently launched nonprofit Watchdog Institute receives money from the San Diego Union Tribune in exchange for providing a certain number of investigative stories to the paper every year, according to American Journalism Review.
Christensen declined to discuss the details of the deal he struck to have the Wells story run in the Herald and Sentinel, but it's clear the arrangement was beneficial to him. Having a Bulldog byline in the dailies drives traffic to his site, and could attract funding. "I got a ton of emails this morning," Christensen says.
Meanwhile, the dailies didn't have to spend time or resources sending a reporter to cover the story. "They get it at a discount," he says.