Face the State, a news site with a conservative point of view, has earned a reputation for feistiness. Note that last year, FTS' Brad Jones (pictured) bought the ColoradoIndependent.org URL as a way of tweaking the Colorado Independent, a left-leaning online source whose web address is ColoradoIndependent.com despite its non-profit status. Get the details in the November blog "Are Left-Wingers Trying to Visit the Colorado Independent Being Dumped into the Conservative Face the State Website?"
Jones' latest gambit -- an investigative reporting contest that promises a monthly $400 grand prize -- is a less overt broadside against competitors. But in explaining the concept, Jones can't resist taking a shot at mainstream media organizations that tend to look down at ideologically focused operations like his. "With the contractions of newsrooms across Colorado, we felt it important to get average citizens involved in watching their government," he says.
The contest's rules ask participants who come across "government misdeeds that need to be exposed" to put together a story of between 600 and 1,000 words revealing their findings. Submissions must conform to Associated Press style guidelines and include corroboration that the info contained in them is true. For instance, documents and interview transcripts and/or recordings should be made available to FTS. Those stories received by the site by the first Monday of each month will then be read and ranked; the first time around, Jones says, this will probably be done in-house, but he envisions a panel of journalists from a variety of backgrounds to take on the chore in the future. The winner will receive $400 in exchange for giving Face the State an exclusive on the story for sixty days, while finalists could end up with lesser sums in the $75-$100 range.
According to Jones, articles that gore politicians of all parties will be considered. "We're interested in holding government accountable, and that doesn't have an ideology," he insists. "Waste is waste. And beyond the state level, where partisan politics are very prominent, local governments are largely unwatched. That gets back to the contracting nature of news right now. We're hoping this provides people in small communities across the state an incentive to look at everything from the local water conservancy district to city hall to county government. And it doesn't have to be about a personality -- a politician wasting money. It could show how the system is broken."
The money for this project comes from Face the State's investors, who Jones doesn't name. However, he does concede that their motivations aren't wholly altruistic. "We see this as a marketing tool," he allows. "It's an opportunity for us to get our name out there and show that we're serious about doing the work of investigative journalism. We feel like we do a pretty good job of it already, but with a small staff, there's only so much we can do."
At this point, Jones doesn't know how much interest the contest will generate -- and he's open to altering its mechanics depending on how many or few budding journos take the bait. "None of this is written in stone," he says. "Perhaps we'll find that we'll get a set of regulars. Or perhaps people may need more than a month to get their story, in which case we might go quarterly. So we're open to changing this around, and we won't lose any pride if we have to retool. The goal is to get people to do this kind of reporting, and the more useful we can make this contest toward that goal, the better.
"Students are still going to journalism school, and people still want to get into this business. They just don't have a way to monetize it," he goes on. "I would love to discover some up-and-coming investigative journalists who perhaps work in a completely different field, but who enjoy rooting out a good story and exposing it -- and wouldn't mind making a few bucks in the process."