USC Annenberg and Scripps Howard Fund launch open-source investigative journalism program

Open-source investigative journalism uses publicly available information — from satellite imagery and social media networks to online databases — to reveal powerful untold stories. It often requires technological savvy, computational tools and other advanced techniques to search through vast amounts of visible data and collect insights. Open-source investigative journalism is likely to have a major impact on future reporting and storytelling, yet many of the journalists using these techniques are self-taught or have learned these skills in online forums.

With an investment of up to $300,000 from the Scripps Howard Fund, the USC Annenberg School of Journalism is building America’s premier open-source investigative reporting education program. USC Annenberg Associate Professor of Journalism Mark Schoofs and adjunct instructor Kevin Reyes will lead the initiative aimed at supporting the next generation of investigative journalists and innovating journalism education.

The program’s curricula will provide a diverse and dynamic cohort of students with hands-on, real-world reporting experience from USC Annenberg faculty. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate with different news organizations across the country, including the Los Angeles Times; the Associated Press; Reuters; The Guardian US; Wired magazine; Blacklight, the investigative arm of The Amsterdam News; and ProPublica.

The program was developed in collaboration with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI). Led by Professor of Computer Science and Communication Emilio Ferrara and Research Professor Craig Knoblock, ISI’s executive director, these efforts will tap into the full range of USC’s computational and technical academic resources, helping create reporting tools that will be made available to benefit journalism schools and newsrooms.

“We are incredibly proud to partner with the Scripps Howard Fund on this collaborative and interdisciplinary effort that leverages USC’s substantial investigative journalism expertise, extensive relationships with media partners, and leadership in computational research and digital tools,” USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay said. “This first-of-its-kind program will provide our students and those across the country with an unparalleled opportunity to chart the future of the profession.”

To ensure the program is accessible, the grant will allow USC Annenberg to offer scholarship and post-graduate fellowship support for graduate students with need. Schoofs added that the program will also develop boot camps, a website, conferences, and other strategies to share open-source investigative journalism resources and tools with schools of journalism, their educators and students nationwide.

“USC Annenberg is one of America’s foremost schools of journalism, known for melding cutting-edge technology with powerful journalism,” Schoofs said. “The Scripps Howard Fund is helping us take the next step in that tradition by developing an open-source investigative reporting program that prepares journalists to carry out their fundamental duty of finding and revealing the truth while using the latest advances in tech.”

The Fund selected USC Annenberg from 15 applicants for the four-year grant, which will help launch the program by the 2024–25 academic year.

“Just as data skills have become almost a prerequisite for many journalists, we believe open-source skills will soon become table stakes for the next generation of reporters and editors,” said Mike Canan, director of journalism strategies with the Scripps Howard Fund. “USC Annenberg has an innovative approach to teaching the next generation of investigative reporters these important skills. We hope other journalism programs across the country learn from USC Annenberg and can implement open-source training in their curriculum.”