Several years ago classmates undertook a project that was a precursor to ClassACT HR79 and a case study of what we can accomplish when we work together. The panel at our 40th Reunion, The Future of Facts in a Post-Fact World: American Journalism at a Crossroad, grew out of the Initiative for Investigative Journalism.
The Future of Facts in a Post-Fact World: American Journalism at a Crossroad. From left to right: Alix Freedman, David Sassoon, Amy Goodman, Dick Tofel, Joanne Kenen.
In 2017, before we learned about the ClassACT efforts by the Class of 1973, members of our class joined forces to help support some of our trailblazing classmates in investigative journalism to pursue the values that Harvard helped instill in us over 40 years ago. This project, the HR79 Initiative for Investigative Journalism (IIJ), shows how some of our classmates have already worked together to effect positive change.
As many attendees of our 35th Reunion observed, that reunion generated a strong sense of community and a recognition that we're compassionate and thoughtful people who admire the search for truth and the free flow of ideas supported by facts, even when we disagree on their interpretation. Some of us continued our reunion conversations about our challenging times and how we could help address them. These discussions led us to focus on the future of a free press. It seemed to us to be a fundamental attribute of democracy, an idea that transcends political differences and worthy of our collective effort to protect. This cornerstone of our democracy has been under attack, with accusations that the media is "the enemy of the people" and with attempts to blur the lines between "fake news" and facts.
In 2017, Elena (Nini) Cohen and Meg Streeter Lauck noted that several of our classmates were on the front lines of efforts to combat these assaults. They were leading nonprofit news organizations that produced influential, award-winning investigative journalism meeting the highest standards in the business and having an outsized impact despite their small size. Nini and Meg immediately focused on the power of bringing classmates together to financially support these HR79 leaders.
Their first step was to identify classmates with different types of expertise who could serve on the IIJ steering committee. The full committee included Jonathan Alter • John Anderson • Andy Calkins • Elena (Nini) Cohen (co-chair) • Margaret Downs • Ralph Earle • Laurie Hays • DeWitt (Dick) Jones • Joanne Kenen • Laura Levine • Andrew Peskoe • Jonathan Ratner • Susan Ruskin Friend • Jonathan Silver • Cliff Sloan • Meg Streeter Lauck (co-chair) • Ginger Thomson • Mark Whitaker • Gwill York.
The committee created a fundraising model that, rather than focusing on mass mailings, relied on committee members individually contacting classmates with whom they had a personal connection, with the group ultimately reaching about 400 people. Many members were themselves journalistic heroes and/or leaders in their own communities. Members volunteered their time to help implement the IIJ vision with their creativity, camaraderie, and compassion.
During the five-month solicitation in the winter of 2017-2018, IIJ:
Classmate Alan Drummer summarized the positive feelings about the IIJ expressed by so many of us:
I think this is a tremendous effort. As I became aware of organizations like ProPublica and InsideClimate News, I was glad to see what they were doing, but until this fundraising outreach I had no idea how many of them were founded or managed by H/R Class of ’79 classmates! It is inspiring to see the difference our classmates are making in so many kinds of journalism.... To me, they are Jedi Knights. Against tough odds and ever-decreasing funding, they are keeping alive a sense of justice through investigation and revelation. They’re our last defense in an era that threatens clear thinking, respect, kindness, and constructive public dialog. I’m grateful for their work and proud of them.
Our classmates also shared words of appreciation for IIJ donations to their organizations (listed alphabetically):
InsideClimate News (ICN): https://insideclimatenews.org/
There’s nothing like reconnecting with old friends and a community of support to lift the spirit and swell the budget in difficult times. We’re grateful, too, for the inspired hard work of the organizers of the IIJ in rallying the class in defense of journalism. Y'all rock.
Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR): http://kycir.org/
I was inspired by the support from our classmates and friends and grateful for the renewed connections with many wonderful people through the IIJ. The donations for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) ensure top-notch journalists remain at work in the middle of the country exposing those who abuse their privilege and power. KyCIR’s journalism was widely praised after we released a five-part investigation on a state legislator in mid-December.... Thanks so much.
The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a piece about the series that got international attention when the legislator died by suicide rather than face the charges. In January of 2018 Michael left his role leading Louisville Public Media (the parent of KyCIR), noting, “I remain a huge advocate for KyCIR’s work and want to ensure that fact-based, quality reporting reaches into every community in this country."
The Marshall Project: https://www.themarshallproject.org/
The Marshall Project is so honored by your support that other board members are organizing with their college classes to do the same. I am personally gratified to connect with such great friends who continue to set the standard for respect and love of mankind. Huge thanks to Nini and Meg for organizing us!
The National Security Archive: https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/
We are in awe of the energy and altruism behind this initiative! For the Archive, not only was this a real innovation into much more individual support than we had ever had before, but in addition to the substantial financial benefit to us (enough income to pay for three half-time grad students!) there was the tremendous psychological boost and sense of community in a greater cause.
It was incredibly heartening to receive such support from classmates—old friends in many cases, but some just acquaintances way back when, and many with whom I’d lost touch. Your help really makes a difference to ProPublica and the work we can do, and we deeply appreciate it.
Connection between IIJ and ClassACT
During our IIJ fundraising, classmate Sue Weil mentioned that her brother Rick Weil HR73 participated in an effort similar to to IIJ, and through Rick, we were first introduced to ClassACT HR73. We were inspired and energized by the prospect of institutionalizing a way we could all work together on different projects, and made a mental note to come back to the issue at a later date.
Reinforced at the 40th Reunion was the way that having a community and sense of purpose improves our own mental health. Several classmates noted that they found the IIJ rewarding not only because we helped support such fantastic organizations, but also because of the personal connections and teamwork.
The IIJ is a case study of what we can accomplish when we work together. With the creation of ClassACT HR79, we have the opportunity to continue to work with other classmates on projects that help repair the world.