Virginian-Pilot alums launch statewide investigative reporting center

The Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism, a new, independent, nonprofit newsroom, hopes to publish its first story soon.

Two former staffers at The Virginian-Pilot have teamed up to launch a nonprofit investigative newsroom that plans to partner with media outlets and universities around the state to produce in-depth local reporting.

The Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism aims to post its first story within the next month and hopes to begin publishing on a routine basis by the end of September, said Chris Tyree, the fledgling organization’s executive editor and cofounder.

“It’s not going to be a daily report,” said Tyree, who worked as a photographer at the Pilot and, more recently, as a documentary filmmaker. “We have newspapers doing that. We’re going to be taking things deeper. And some of our projects will take a lot of time to do.”

Tyree enlisted former colleague Maria Carrillo to serve as co-director. She worked as the Pilot’s managing editor for nine years and is currently a deputy editor at the Tampa Bay Times, where she oversees enterprise journalism. She says she’ll stay in that role as she helps launch the center.

“We’ve watched from a distance as the Pilot has gotten smaller and smaller and other newsrooms have gotten smaller and smaller,” Carrillo said. “We’ve lost a lot of expertise and investigative journalists.”

Over the past 10 years, staffing levels in the state’s biggest newsrooms have been cut nearly in half amid buyouts, layoffs and attrition.

Meanwhile, nonprofit newsrooms have increasingly stepped in to fill gaps in reporting around the country. In Virginia, The Mercury launched in July. Richmond’s NPR affiliate, WCVE, more than doubled its full-time reporting staff. And the Hampton Roads affiliate, WHRO, announced in April it would hire a news director and two local reporters.

Tyree said the center’s goal is to support existing newsrooms through partnerships and joint publishing agreements.

The center is rolling out with an advisory board that has deep connections to news organizations around the state, including Bruce Bradley, the Pilot’s former publisher, and Carol Tarrant, the former editor of The Roanoke Times. They’ve also established an academic advisory board with representatives from journalism departments at colleges and universities around the state.

Students from those schools will work with veteran journalists to pursue their own reporting projects as well as provide fact checking, research and production help, Tyree said.

The center eventually plans to hire a full-time staff they hope will grow into the dozens, but for now they’re operating on an all-volunteer basis.

“We need to raise some money,” Tyree said. “Investigative reporting takes time and money and that’s why a lot of news organizations have cut back on it.”