November 4, 2010

Q&A: Investigative News Network CEO Kevin Davis

Investigative News Network’s first Chief Executive Officer Kevin Davis has introduced some exciting new initiatives for the network.  His objectives for INN are focused on content distribution and sustainable revenue streams.  In this question and answer session, Davis shares his thoughts on his first few months on the job, and his vision for moving forward.

Cater Lee:  Kevin, you have been a very busy man for the past 100 days – taking on the role of INN’s first CEO, what have you accomplished so far?

Kevin:  So far, I am very pleased with what we’ve accomplished in the first 100 days – first and foremost, in establishing a logo, an identity, and a brand for our content.  The initial mandate was three-fold:  1) to introduce a syndication initiative that would create sustainable revenue streams for our expensive, and very important content; 2) to talk to insurance companies about plans that would fit the needs of our members, and 3) to secure resources that help the members.  For example, we are in conversations with information and data resources for affordable rates across a wide set of services and are arranging a free subscription for all members to a journalism data library.

In short, I think there’s been a lot of practical work done, and there’s definitely a much better handle on what the network is doing, and what we can do to help it moving forward.  And I have had an excellent board to work with.

Cater:  Now that you’ve had a chance to get to know the members of the network, what are you most excited about?

Kevin:  To be honest, what I’m most excited about is the members and the amazing content they produce.  At the end of the day, even though we have members of all different shapes and sizes – some are regionally focused, some are nationally or internationally focused, some have large staffs, others have small staffs – what is most impressive to me is their passion for journalism and the quality of the content.  I joined this organization because I believed in what it stood for, but now what motivates me is to get that content to the right audiences.  So it’s gone, in my mind, from the potential to the realization aspect, and that’s the most impressive part.

Cater:  So where do we go from here?

Kevin:  The message is two-fold.  We are already important, strong, vital, vibrant.  We are not aspiring to be a network, we are a network.  Now how do we collaborate to create content that has the highest impact possible, and how can we get that content out there in ways that are truly meaningful for both the audience and for us as we strive for sustainability.  Increasingly, the network is going to be judged on the impact of its content.  As a result, what it means to be an INN member is going to become increasingly important as well.

Cater:  What do you foresee in terms of editorial collaboration happening within the network?

Kevin:  Building up from where the “Campus Sexual Assault” series ( left off, we now have a model – with folks like Center for Public Integrity (CPI) working with NPR, another member – by which stories of national import can have a robust and highly-relevant local or regional connection.

That makes it more relevant to local audiences, and we can get the content out there in ways that reach that widest audience.  Certainly we’re going to see a lot more CPI and NPR, and I think there’s also additional funding there to help facilitate that.

Cater:  What is going to happen regionally and at the state level?

Kevin:  There’s going to be a lot of organic, natural collaboration – and what we’re going to do help foster that is to create more comprehensive community tools.  Specifically, I’m referring to the new “Members Only” section of the new INN website, which is scheduled to be rolled out in November.

We will now have toolsets that enable people to share best practices, nurture ideas, and when those ideas actually come to fruition – when there’s a solid story, we’ll have systems by which those stories can be offered up to get other members in the network involved.  We are also going to see increasing collaboration with external for-profit partners, who are keenly interested in our content and getting it out there.  One of my big hopes for the next 100 days is to see a lot more velocity as it relates to collaboration.

Cater:  And that’s where sustainability becomes possible and attainable, when you see those partnerships in play, right?

Kevin:  There are a couple of aspects to sustainability.  One is revenue models, and it’s well understood now that there is no one model that’s going to get us to the promised land.  In the short term, one way is to work with the very media companies that are frankly threatened themselves.  In fact, there’s a big question as to whether we are helping to accelerate the demise of that model, or are we helping to support them in ways that make sense to both entities?  The longer term opportunity and challenge for us is to activate consumer audiences that care about our content and are willing to support that content directly.  That’s a bigger challenge, but that’s the ultimate goal.

Cater:  We are heading into the fall with lofty goals…any final words to the members?

Kevin:  There’s a lot of work ahead of us.  Our communication strategy is that INN is here to serve our membership, and we are trying very hard to bring programs to them that make sense for the majority of them.  We’re very much rooted in the practical, and we know there are still tremendous needs, particularly in back-office functions and leveraging the network that still need to be touched.

My message is – we hear you.  INN has a real opportunity to crystallize the conversation around non-profit investigative journalism.  We will be out there, taking on the public relations and marketing charge, to make sure investigative journalism remains in the public eye and to foster the greatest support for the important work that our members are doing.  We want to answer the big question that consumers, news organizations and foundations want to know…how to keep investigative journalism alive.