Digging Deeper: A Conversation with Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

“We are firm believers that an aggressive media is a necessary component of a well-functioning democracy”

I’m truly enjoying correspondence with various voices around America as part of this project. Trevor Aaronson, Executive Director at the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, highlighted yesterday, definitely has a distinct one – the kind we need to help interpret the surreal and heavy world we live in.

Why is it critical to serve the population you support in the state where you are?

Whether we deserve it or not, Florida has an outsized importance in the nation. Sure, everyone knows about the 2000 election and the influential role Florida plays as a populous swing state in the Electoral College. But many things that have troubled our nation have gotten their start or became flashpoints in Florida. The “Stand Your Ground” laws started here, with perhaps the most infamous case involved the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Florida was ground zero for the mortgage and foreclosure crises. No state is more at risk to the effects of climate change than Florida. The list goes on and on.

At the same time, due to persistent cuts to the staffs of media organizations throughout the state, Florida has seen a dramatic decrease in the capacity of investigative journalism. While Florida newspapers still do great work — the haul of Pulitzer Prizes and finalists last year represent just one testament to that — there are many fewer reporters working today than there were 10 years ago. We believe this is bad for Florida, and bad for the nation, as we are firm believers that an aggressive media is a necessary component of a well-functioning democracy. Now that we find ourselves in an era where fake news circulates, where a man just yesterday shot off a rifle in a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor because he was inspired by a ridiculous conspiracy theory peddled as fact, I think it’s clear that credible, ethical, clear-eyed journalism is more important than ever. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting isn’t the solution alone to the problems Florida’s media faces. But we do think we are part of the solution, by providing a way for foundations and individuals to fund journalism that is in the public interest. Despite FCIR being a modestly funded organization, our journalism has tremendous reach — in media organizations throughout Florida as well as throughout the nation.

What will FCIR’s main focus(es) be in 2017?

We have three primary programs: providing funding to journalists working on important accountability projects in Florida; the Islamophobia Project, which focuses on reporting on Islamophobia throughout the nation and is building a community of people on Facebook interested in the subject; and providing fiscal sponsorships to journalism organizations and individual journalists whose work is funded by foundations or individuals requiring a 501(c)(3) fiscal umbrella.

While you struggle against serious challenges in a red state, what is something positive that those of us outside of Florida should know about the state or its people?

Florida is too often the butt of national jokes. And it’s not undeserved. The reason Florida Man is funny is because his stories are true. But we have a lot of positives. We invented sunscreen and Gatorade. We gave the world Jim Morrison, Vanilla Ice and Flo Rida. Foreign species find Florida so hospitable that more than 2,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from the Everglades. Burt Reynolds and Ernest Hemingway have lived here. We are very complicated in our tastes of art, finding ways to support simultaneously Salvador Dalí and Guy Harvey. Some say Florida’s Capitol resembles certain male body parts. I mean, c’mon, I could go on and on.

Thank you to Trevor for providing your very unique voice to this project, while also pinpointing the critical reasons investigative reporting is critical in both Florida and the United States.

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