When most people think of investigative journalism, they think of Woodward and Bernstein meeting Deep Throat in a parking garage. Or Mike Wallace shoving a microphone in the face of some hapless executive.
Around here, we think of Love Canal. Not the story most people think they know—Hooker Chemical poisoning Niagara Falls, New York—but the real story.
In February 1981, REASON reported that Hooker had years before given the contaminated land to the Niagara Falls Board of Education under the threat of eminent domain. Investigative journalist Eric Zuesse described in detail how the school board had refused Hooker's every effort to restrict the land's use to prevent disturbing the chemicals and had sold the land to housing developers over Hooker's strenuous objections and despite a clause in the deed that warned of buried chemicals.
This well-documented tale of government negligence busted a lot of myths. It attracted national attention. And it helped to redefine investigative journalism as not only exposing business wrongdoing or corrupt politicians but also revealing the seamier side of government as usual.
The Love Canal issue was the first copy of REASON I ever read. Wow. I was, to say the least, impressed. As I began to read REASON regularly, I discovered that it was different from other "think magazines." Its writers didn't just sit in armchairs and theorize; they got up and found out what was actually happening—just like real journalists.
Many of the stories I liked carried the credit line "This article is a project of the Reason Foundation Investigative Journalism Fund." They weren't always muckraking pieces like the Love Canal article. Some were positive. A December 1982 story described private initiatives that enable low-income people to own their own homes, and a June/July 1985 article examined how illegal jitneys serve Pittsburgh's poor neighborhoods better than taxis or public transportation.
What was the mysterious fund behind these stories? The IJF, as it's known around the office, was started in 1979 after REASON's first investigative piece—on the misuse of federal funds by Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers union—received national media coverage and eventually led to a court order that the union return the money.
In the early days, the IJF provided a way for a small magazine to do good, basic journalism, as well as investigative work. IJF contributions from foundations and corporations paid for the phone calls and travel costs that mainstream journalists take for granted but nonprofit magazines can't.
Nowadays, REASON expects more and more of the articles it publishes to be journalistic. And we reserve IJF money for stories that go above and beyond the call of good basic reporting.
In 1984–85, in our biggest investigative project ever, REASON sent journalist/adventurer Jack Wheeler around the world to report a series of articles on anti-Soviet resistance movements. His trips to Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique, and Nicaragua cost over $30,000. But they got policymakers talking about anti-Soviet insurgents not as isolated guerrillas but as part of a worldwide phenomenon—the popular rebellion against the last colonial empire.
Closer to home, Dale Gieringer spent eight months and $1,750—more than $1,400 on phone calls alone—to research our December cover story, "Inside the DEA." The IJF enabled us to hire a good reporter and give him enough money to do the job right (even though he did save us money by camping out some nights in a VW van.)
Ideas for such stories often come from the authors themselves. But they also come from readers. Last spring, we sent out a letter asking readers to contribute their ideas (and much-needed money) to the UF. Responses poured in. Without going into too much detail, some ideas we're looking into include:
• The whos, whats, and whys of the homeless and the homeless lobby.
• Private prisons.
• Alternatives to Social Security.
• Innovative private transportation.
Keep those cards and letters coming.