An Insider’s View: A Nonprofit in a Newspaper Newsroom

This summer, INN member California Watch announced that two of its staffers would be working in an unusual place: the newsroom of the Orange County Register.

Mark Katches, editorial director for California Watch and CIR, has for some time wanted to have a presence in Southern California and he had a connection with the Register–he was Investigations Editor there until 2006.

For a newspaper in a competitive market to agree to such an arrangement would have been unheard of 10 years ago. The Register’s receptiveness speaks to the changing nature of the news business and the increasing acceptance of partnerships with enterprising nonprofits.

INN caught up with Ken Brusic, Editor of the Orange County Register, to talk about his trail-blazing move. Here’s an edited version of what he had to say:

INN: What was your reaction when Katches first reached out to you?

Brusic: I liked the idea immediately. Mark Katches is a former colleague and friend. That didn’t stop him from letting me know he was shopping around for the best space and deal he could find to house his reporters in Southern California.

We found the reporters a spot in the middle of our newsroom, right next to Chris Knap, our investigative editor. Space wasn’t the problem. Like many newsrooms, we have a lot more empty desks than I’d like.

INN: Why is this a good move for the Register? 

Brusic: It further cements our relationship with California Watch.

One of the primary pillars of our coverage platform is emphasis on watchdog and investigative journalism. We attempt to have one of those stories on our cover or local section front daily.

To keep the quality high, we need strong partners like California Watch. They do great work that we can trust.

INN: What does the financial part of the deal look like? 

Brusic: We contract with and pay them for the use of a certain number of stories annually. They pay a similar amount for the use of the facilities: covered parking, ample desk space, phones and Internet access.

We also try, when we can, to offer photo and graphic support. It’s an arrangement that has mutual benefits.

INN: Not long ago, some journalists in a competitive environment like Southern California would have been suspicious of any outside media working in the room. What was the reaction when the staff first heard about the arrangement with California Watch? 

Brusic: Anyone who still thinks that way is long gone. We are delighted to have other good, talented and dedicated journalists among us.

The day we made the formal announcement to the staff, we arranged a cake and coffee get-to-know-one-another reception.

Mark introduced the reporters, spoke to the California Watch mission and answered questions. I talked about my admiration for the organization’s work, and the need for us to work closely with such organizations to provide the coverage our readers expect. We have paired their reporters with ours on several occasions.

INN: You’ve run quite a few California Watch stories, what goes into the decisions to take or not take a story?

Brusic: Investigations Editor Chris Knap and I talk and review the budgets, but he does the heavy lifting.

We are looking for stories that affect our community or have that “holy-cow-I didn’t-know-that” quality. Space is another issue, but we generally run these stories on Sunday, and we’re planning about six weeks out.

INN: What makes the partnership work?

Brusic: Relationships and trust. I know Mark, his values and his character. I know the care and effort he puts into his work. I’ve watched the California Watch reporters. They are focused and dedicated. And I see high quality in the stories we publish.

Our two organizations have developed a strong relationship. Each of us benefits, but the real winners are the readers.