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VCIJ Brings Hope to Investigative Journalism

By SHSJC Student Lauryn Moss, written for JAC 310, Prof. Lynn Waltz

HAMPTON, Va. – An award-winning investigative journalist has created a statewide non-profit to help newsrooms develop in-depth stories.

During a panel discussion at Hampton University in February, Christopher Tyree, the co-founder of the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism (VCIJ), pointed out the limited resources for investigative journalists in the current market.

“It’s the journalism that takes just a little bit longer to do just by the nature of it,” Tyree said.

VCIJ is partnering with universities like Hampton to provide training for journalism programs and a publishing platform for their work. These partnerships help widen the center’s reach in higher education. VCIJ recently received a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation to help VCIJ create a summer workshop on the impact of COVID on secondary school students. Hampton students are welcome to attend.

Tyree, who lives in Charlottesville, has witnessed the newspaper industry's cuts. He built his nonprofit company with the hopes of creating change through reporting in Virginia – where he grew up – and partnering with news outlets and universities to bring lengthy investigative pieces back.

"We started to think how we can build a news model so that we can do the type of journalism that isn't being done, which is investigative journalism," he said.

Tyree worked at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk for years and is shocked that these newspaper companies no longer have facilities.

"The Virginian-Pilot and The Daily Press don't actually have a building anymore. When I was there, we had 19 people there on my team. Now, there are three," he said.

Investigative journalists spend months developing an in-depth story. In explaining this process, Tyree said that submitting Freedom of Information Act requests takes a lot of time. It takes time to submit them, to receive them, process them and possibly send more FOIA’s, he said.

Recently, Tyree worked with Orb Media to reveal how microscopic plastic fibers contaminated tap water. Nearly 96 percent of water in the United States contains microplastics, he said.

Tyree wants to support newsrooms because he is worried about the industry's state.

“It’s kind of scary what’s going on,” he said.