Taking the reins of an investigative newsroom when every day seems to bring us a new national crisis – mass shootings, migrant minors at the border, vaccine distribution disparities – all during a pandemic that still has us sheltering in place, is a daunting task. 

It’s not just the challenge of working remotely. 

Mark J. Rochester is inewsource’s managing editor. (Courtesy of Mark J. Rochester)

There’s the additional responsibility of motivating staff to continue aggressively pursuing high-impact accountability reporting when each day seems to bring fresh reasons for the public to lose faith in our most basic institutions. Whether it’s the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, or the televised trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, it can be easy to lose perspective on how important local watchdog reporting is to the health and well-being of our communities. When national headlines are dominated by news of spiking COVID-19 infection rates, prominent politicians accused of sexual misconduct, and video replays of a brutal police-related homicide, it would be understandable for local journalists to feel their efforts are lost amid a crescendo of national despair and hopelessness.

But if the last few months have demonstrated nothing else, these chaotic events have proven that the need for watchdog reporting that holds government, big business and other institutions accountable has never been more essential. These are grim societal and economic times, but our talented staff is working tirelessly to tell essential watchdog stories that expose wrongdoing, uncover waste or shed light on economic and social inequities that impact quality of life in the San Diego region. 

I’ve overseen investigative reporting from New York to California for more than three decades, but I’ve never been more proud to join a newsroom where the commitment to “accountability journalism” is almost shouted from the rooftops, like it is at inewsource. I say a renewed sense of pride in the work that I’m taking up because the dedication to painstakingly reported and thoroughly vetted watchdog journalism is so apparent in everything this newsroom does.  

These aren’t hollow company slogans buried in the back of an employee handbook somewhere. These are expectations baked into the organization’s DNA and put into practice daily by staff. 

As I write this, it’s my second day on the job and I’ve just participated in my first Zoom staff meeting with reporters, editors and others on the team, where we all listened to a peer presentation on understanding core issues involved with reporting fairly and accurately on the criminal justice system. It was an impressive “digital brown bag” session where one staffer walked other team members through important information relevant to one of our core topic issues, so that reporting on criminal justice issues does not contain bias or misinformation. 

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Your contribution will help us produce more local, impact-driven investigative stories in San Diego County.

Participating in the staff meeting was a reminder that inewsource isn’t just committed to pursuing great journalism, it cares about communities it covers and whether the storytelling about those communities accurately reflects issues of importance in those areas. It’s the purest form of diversity and inclusion, buzzwords often uttered in corporate boardrooms since the violent urban unrest of last summer. 

As one of the few African American investigative editors in the country, I’m often asked about diversity and inclusion efforts in U.S. newsrooms, and I usually remark that inclusion isn’t just the demographic breakdown of the bodies sitting inside a newsroom, inclusion is about:

  • Whose stories get told.
  • Who gets the chance to tell those stories.
  • Who is making those decisions.
  • Signaling to readers whose issues matter.

I’m buoyed by the variety of accountability stories pursued by inewsource reporters and the relevance of that work. For example, inewsource investigated how rent relief money was being distributed and how nearly 1,300 landlords either refused to participate in the programs or missed deadlines. A new state law is now providing built-in incentives designed to persuade landlords to take the money. You can be sure we will be digging into whether that happens and struggling renters get the help they need.

It’s now my job to make sure we continue to produce impactful storytelling. The sound you’re hearing is me, rolling up my sleeves … 

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Mark J. Rochester is a former inewsource managing editor. Previously, he was editor in chief of Type Investigations, a national investigative newsroom headquartered in Manhattan. He has held senior management positions overseeing investigative journalism from New York to California, having been senior...