California Watch

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California Watch
Founded August 2009
Focus Investigative Journalism
Method Foundation and member-supported
Key people
Robert Rosenthal, Executive Director of CIR
Mark Katches, Editorial Director
Christa Scharfenberg, Associate Director of CIR
Slogan Bold new journalism

California Watch, part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, began producing stories in 2009.[1] The official launch of the California Watch website took place in January 2010.[2] The team is best known for producing well researched and widely distributed investigative stories on topics of interest to Californians.[3] It works with many news outlets, including newspapers throughout the state, all of the ABC television affiliates in California, KQED radio and television and dozens of websites. The Center for Investigative Reporting created California Watch with $3.5 million in seed funding.[2][4] The team won several industry awards for its public interest reporting, including the George Polk Award in 2012.[5][6][7][8]


In 2009, the California Watch team began creating reports on statewide issues.[1] The team’s mission was to highlight stories related to education, immigration, the environment, politics, public safety, and other areas of public interest.[9]

At the time of its launch, California Watch had seven reporters, two multimedia producers, and two editors. The first editorial director of California Watch was Mark Katches. The reporting team included Lance Williams, who uncovered the BALCO steroids in sports scandal while an investigative reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. [10][11] California Watch started with offices in Berkeley and Sacramento, California.[2]

California Watch hired three additional reporters in mid-2010.[12] Among them was Ryan Gabrielson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on abusive practices in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.[13] California Watch shares its editors, TV producers, multimedia producers, news applications developers, data analysts and radio production with the Center for Investigative Reporting.

In March 2010, California Watch launched the “Politics Verbatim” website. The site tracked the statements and promises of the state’s candidates for governor, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown.[14] The site featured search tools, and users could sort statements by topic and geographic location.[15]

Reporting targeted at younger audiences includes age-specific media, such as coloring books and finger puppet videos.[16]


  • Majority of California's Largest Districts Eye Shorter School Year, by Louis Freedberg.[17]
  • More Women Dying from Pregnancy Complications; State Holds On to Report, by Nathanael Johnson.[15]
  • Death at San Jose Nursing Home Leaves Family in Search of Answers, by Lisa Pickoff White, in partnership with the Orange County Register, the San Jose Mercury News, Sacramental Bee, KQED and others.[18][19]
  • Nitrate Contamination Spreading in California Communities, by Julia Scott.[20]
  • Car Seizures at DUI Checkpoints Prove Profitable for Cities, Raise Legal Questions, by Ryan Gabrielson.[21]
  • Prime Healthcare's Treatment of Rare Ailments Stands Out, by Christina Jewett and Stephen K. Doig.[22][23]
  • On Shaky Ground, a three-part California Watch and KQED-TV investigation.[24][25]
  • Broken Shield, a series of investigations into police failures and abuses.[26]
  • Spain's High-speed Rail System Offers Lessons for California, by Tim Sheehan, part of a joint series with the Fresno Bee and news outlets around the state, on the peril and promise of bullet trains in California.[27][28]
  • Scrutiny of Oakland Church School Grows, by Will Evans.[29]

Operations model[edit]

The Center for Investigative Reporting, which runs California Watch, depends largely on foundation grants and individual donors. It also charges for its content. California Watch publishes content on its website and also distributes content to other news outlets, such as The San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, KQED, all of the ABC TV affiliates in California and National Public Radio. California Watch has an agreement with New American Media to help distribute translated versions of the team’s reports to ethnic news outlets.[2]

Distribution is important for the success of California Watch’s efforts. In the case of the story on school-district budget cuts, California Watch had 20 media partners for the story. It was distributed in print, on TV, the web, and radio.[17]

California Watch has experimented with new ways of distributing its work. To spread the word on a story about earthquake safety at public universities, the team produced fliers. They handed out these fliers on the UC Berkeley campus, which has more unsafe buildings than any other California university.[30] As part of the investigation into the seismic safety of K-12 schools in California, California Watch produced and distributed more than 30,000 coloring books in multiple languages, to help children learn about earthquake safety. In 2012, it partnered with the UCSF Children’s Hospital to distribute 50,000 more at San Francisco’s Fleet Week.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2012, California Watch won the George Polk Award for medical reporting. Its investigation exposed fraudulent medical billing at Prime Healthcare Services.[6][7] California Watch was the only nonprofit organization on the list of winners. Lance Williams and Christina Jewett were the lead reporters on the investigation.[8]

In 2010, California Watch initiated the “Open Newsroom” project. The team works from coffee houses and other public areas with free Wi-Fi. Director Mark Katches envisioned the open newsroom as a way to engage with the local community.[31] In June 2012, California Watch partnered with KQED to hold a series of five open newsrooms around the San Francisco Bay Area.

The far-reaching “On Shaky Ground” investigation was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2012.[24] In 2011, the story earned the Roy W. Howard Award and a $10,000 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.[32]

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded California Watch a Journalism Innovation award in 2011.[33]

In the previous year, the society named the group Journalist of the Year.[33][34]

The Broken Shield series of investigations into police failures and abuses picked up the Online News Association’s Gannett Foundation Award for Innovative Investigative Journalism in 2012.[35] California Watch was nominated for four ONA awards in 2011.[36]


  1. ^ a b Pete Basofin (5 January 2010). "California Watch launches with investigations and data". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Martin Langeveld (5 January 2010). "California Watch: The latest entrant in the dot-org journalism boom". Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Ken Doctor (23 March 2010). "3 Reasons to Watch California Watch". Newsonomics. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "CIR History" (PDF). Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Kelly Carr (10 February 2012). "ASU professor wins George Polk Award for Medical Reporting". Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Julie Moos (21 February 2012). "Polk Awards honor Sara Ganim, Anthony Shadid, California Watch, Advertiser Democrat". The Poynter Institute. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Matthew Fleischer (20 February 2012). "California Watch Wins the George Polk Award for Medical Reporting". FishBowlLA. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Kevin Roderick (19 February 2012). "Kudos to California Watch for Polk Award". LA Observed. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Trafton Kenney (19 January 2010). "Are Non-Profits the Future of Investigate Reporting?". World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Lance Williams; Mark Fainaru-Wada (3 December 2004). "What Bonds told BALCO grand jury". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Interview Lance Williams". Frontline. 13 February 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Steve Safran (15 March 2012). "California Watch rewards civility – with iPods". Lost Remote. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  13. ^ James King (1 June 2010). "Ryan Gabrielson, Former Pulitzer-Prize-Winning East Valley Tribune Reporter, Gets New Gig With California Watch". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  14. ^ Emma Goodman (22 June 2010). "California Watch launches Politics Verbatim to track candidates". World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Kate Snow; Sarah Amos (4 March 2010). "Maternal Mortality Rates Rising in California". ABC News. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  16. ^ Adrienne LaFrance (18 April 2012). "Coloring books and puppets: California Watch unveils a new section just for kids". Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Megan Garber (3 August 2010). "California Watch's distribution model, by the numbers". Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  18. ^ Christina Jewett (24 May 2010). "Governor requests additional nursing home auditors". California Watch. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  19. ^ "Nursing Homes Cut Staff Despite Funding Boosts". California Healthline. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  20. ^ Katharine Mieszkowski (17 May 2010). "Sampler: Bay to Breakers, and Nitrates in Drinking Water". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Car Seizures At DUI Checkpoints Raise Money, Legal Questions". The Huffington Post. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  22. ^ Christina Jewett for California Watch (13 December 2011). "FBI questioning former Prime hospital coders". ABC News. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  23. ^ "California Hospital Chain Eyed for Possibly Bilking Medicare for Millions". PBS Newshour. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  24. ^ a b Al Tompkins (16 April 2012). "How Pulitzer contender 'On Shaky Ground' developed at California Watch". The Poynter Institute. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  25. ^ Kevin Roderick (17 June 2012). "'On Shaky Ground' wins another honor for California Watch". LA Observed. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  26. ^ Tracy Boyer Clark (27 February 2012). "California Watch publishes multimedia investigation "Broken Shield"". Innovative Interactivity. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  27. ^ Lance Williams (11 July 2012). "New Bullet Train Plan 'Mangled,' Perhaps Illegal, ex-rail Booster Says". The Fresno Bee. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  28. ^ Lance Williams (27 June 2012). "Some Senators want Dramatic Shift in Bullet Train Plan". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  29. ^ Will Evans (7 September 2012). "Oakland Unified School District Cuts off Funding for Private School". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  30. ^ Megan Garber (8 April 2010). "The future is…fliers? California Watch experiments with a hyper-hyper-hyperlocal distribution model". Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  31. ^ Megan Garber (27 January 2010). "California Watch Launches "Open Newsroom" Project". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  32. ^ "Scripps Howard Awards - 2011 Winners". Scripps Howard Foundatipn. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  33. ^ a b Christa Scharfenberg (19 October 2011). "CIR, California Watch win 2 Society of Professional Journalists awards". California Watch. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  34. ^ "Excellence in Journalism: Winning Ways in New Media". San Francisco Bay Area Journalists. 6 June 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  35. ^ "2012 Online Journalism Award winners announced". Online News Association. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  36. ^ Meghann Farnsworth (1 September 2011). "Center for Investigative Reporting, California Watch named finalists in online news awards". Center for Investigative Reporting. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 

External links[edit]