November 4, 2010

Q&A: CPIPR Founder Omaya Sosa Pascual

Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPIPR) is a nonprofit organization created in 2007 by journalist Omaya Sosa Pascual, former president of the Overseas Press Club,  and the journalist and lawyer Oscar J. Serrano, to promote access to information of the people of Puerto Rico in two ways: the journalistic investigation and litigation test.

Omaya: Actually, I was working for the main newspaper here in Puerto Rico, and as in all over the United States, newspapers here were facing a very tough time.  I was told that no more investigations were going to be done at the newspaper, so I decided to quit my job.  At the same time, another colleague at a competing paper (Oscar Serrano) facing the same situation and it was just a coincidence.  We went to lunch…we independently had the same idea, to explore the non-profit road as a way to preserve investigative journalism in Puerto Rico, so that’s how the Center was born.

It took us eight months to really start operating. So we’re actually celebrating our two-year anniversary of publishing and working long hours here at the Center.

CPIPR is based at the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico.  They have a unique partnership with the law school, where they do Freedom of Information litigation.

Cater: How does that partnership help you work toward sustainability?

Omaya:  It’s been crucial…without that sponsorship and support, we really wouldn’t have been able to work these three years.  We get office space, clerical support, some money…it’s been essential for us.

We studied a lot of models in the U.S., like Center for Public Integrity, for example, another INN member.  We also studied models in Latin America, like the Chile’s Centro de Investigación e Información Periodística (CIPER).  We came up with a hybrid model.  We knew that an academic institution was very important from the beginning to make us sustainable and make us independent.

CPIPR trains law students and journalism students.  One of their biggest stories came from litigation that students worked on for a year.

Omaya: We got access to the whole database of death causes, vital statistics of Puerto Rico from the last decade.  We got our first grant for that project…because no one really knew what people in Puerto Rico were dying from, so we’re really excited about all the stories we see coming from that.

Cater:  You are the first and only non-profit investigative center in the Caribbean.  You said your goal is to become a regional center?

Omaya:  Yes, it is ambitious but we hope we can start moving in that direction growing our resources through creative projects like hosting grant projects from other colleagues that want to take a sabbatical leave from their regular jobs and do collaborative work. We have just submitted the first grant proposal in that regard for a six-month investigation about the impact of the huge influx of foreign aid in Haiti after the earthquake. We believe multilingual and multicultural participation in INN is also important because it brings new points of view and problems to the table and new avenues of collaboration that not only pertain the ever-growing Latino population in the U.S. but situations and interactions with the rest of the countries of this hemisphere.

Our goal for the Centro is to grow our production and our radius of operations with a permanent staff and sustainable finances so that it becomes a lasting institution that can make significant contributions to local and international investigative journalism and to the next generation of journalists in training so that this important genre survives the current media crisis.