Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series focused on getting to know INN member organizations and the people who run them. Nancy West is the founder and executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, which expects to launch in fall 2015.
What’s the origin story of your organization? How did you get started and why?
As a longtime New Hampshire journalist, I was lucky to have basked in the glory days of watchdog news when there were twice as many reporters as there are today. Publishers in the old days could afford to finance legal battles against government secrecy and even pay for occasional travel to search for a really good story. Competition was a keen motivator.
My union newspaper paid a living wage. There was even plenty of overtime. Oh, the good old days. All was right with the world until the last decade when it became clear the old newspaper model wasn’t working. Reductions in circulation, revenue and finally staff were painful to watch. My hybrid reporter/editor job was eliminated. I then watched as people in power took full advantage of the limits of the press by orchestrating the news via press release.
It is shocking today in New Hampshire how rarely the powerful are held accountable, how smug they are and how it appears at times that the truth simply no longer matters. Luckily I have plenty of outrage left to fight back.
Witnessing the rise of nonprofit news outlets, I can see how the horrific cuts actually created new opportunities — the chance to do the best that legacy newspapers could do — and then do it even better. The truly exciting part is that it is not clear at all how this is going to happen, except that I get to be part of making it work somehow. I started the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism to produce the website InDepthNH to re-invigorate statehouse and investigative reporting. I am still closer to the beginning of this process than to launch, but am confident InDepthNH will succeed because the need is so great here and people value news that matters.
What’s your favorite project or story that you’ve worked on?
A grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism supported me and a story I recently finished. It details how an unknowable number of criminal defendants across the country are deprived of their constitutional right to all favorable material evidence against them when it involves discipline for dishonesty hidden in a testifying police officer’s confidential personnel file. VTDigger is expected to publish the story soon [editor’s note: you can read Nancy’s story here] and hopefully other outlets will pick it up.
It’s my favorite story, brushing aside my now second favorite article about the last two murderers sentenced to hang in New Hampshire and how I found one of them living up the street from me after he married a woman he met as a nun volunteering in prison. He turned his life around while the other convict continued a life of crime after they were both released when a U.S. Supreme Court case prompted a brief moratorium on the death penalty in the 1970s.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
My biggest challenges with InDepthNH are the same as most start-ups—getting funding to make the giant leap from great idea to working news outlet. And building the team capable of merging the best of old world journalism with today’s awesome new opportunities for telling truthful stories that fully inform people so they can truly take part in their own democracy.