Center for Public Integrity veteran John Dunbar has taken over as the organization’s new chief executive officer. Dunbar, 52, has worked at the Center for more than 12 years covering three separate stints. He first worked for the Center from 1999-2006, and during that time created the “Well Connected” project, an investigation of the political ties of the media and broadband industries. He came back briefly in 2009 to author the organization’s landmark “Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown?” investigation. Since returning to the Center in 2011, Dunbar has coordinated the organization’s ongoing probes into the role of money in state and federal politics and served as deputy executive editor. He was also the recipient of a George Polk Award for the Center’s investigation into the subprime lending industry.
In addition to his Center service, Dunbar has covered media, technology and financial issues for the Associated Press; served as a project manager at the American University Investigative Reporting Workshop and worked as chief investigative reporter for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
“I’ve known and worked with John Dunbar for nearly 20 years. He is a rock-solid, no-nonsense investigative reporter and editor, one of the very best I’ve ever had the privilege to work with,” said Center founder and long-time executive director Charles Lewis. “I am delighted that he will be at the helm of the Center for Public Integrity, leading its immensely talented, award-winning staff forward.”
In between the virtually non-stop meetings required as part of his new post, Dunbar sat down to answer a few questions:
As the new CEO of the Center for Public Integrity, where do you plan to focus the Center’s reporting in the next year?
Now more than ever people need a credible news source. The award-winning investigative reporting we’ve done historically is very much in demand today. We’re going to continue to hold government accountable. Studying the influence of money on government is still our bread and butter. We’re going to extend that into all areas of our coverage.
What does the outcome of the election mean for journalists?
The journalism community is confused. We read the election wrong by and large. I think there’s going to be an intense curiosity in this group of apparently disaffected voters that until now we didn’t even know existed. Meanwhile, we have a candidate who, to put it mildly, has some dramatically different ideas about the proper role of government. And we’re going to keep a close eye on the reality versus the rhetoric. Republicans have all three branches locked up. There could be a smorgasbord of new influences and policy changes, but that’s yet to be seen because the party itself seems to be so fractured. The question will be whether they’ll be able to govern — not just in terms of working with the Democrats — but working with themselves. There’s no question it’s a sea change. It will take us awhile to figure out what the real impact is going to be — but as Washington’s premier investigative journalism organization, you can bet we’ll be watching.
What does it mean for independent investigative journalism?
I think people are starved for credible information. I think they need and want a trusted source that doesn’t take short cuts or just put out stuff to get clicks. We’ve been that source for 26 years. I see a bright future ahead for the Center for those reasons.
How do nonprofit newsrooms differentiate themselves from the rest of the news industry?
We have time on our side. We don’t face the same harsh deadlines as other news organizations, so what we do is in-depth and serious and trustworthy. We can’t afford to get things wrong. We’re not pressured by advertisers. We have no advertisers. And our journalism is in demand by traditional news outlets which are continuing to cut staff, but still have pages to fill. And that demand has grown dramatically over the years — so our journalism is now regularly appearing in mainstream outlets like The Washington Post, USA Today, NPR.org and NBCNews.com.
You’ve been a journalist for over 25 years. Why do you do what you do?
It sounds trite, but I’ve always been in this to look out for the little guy and little girl, the people who don’t have lobbyists, the people whose voices aren’t heard. It’s always been about a sense of justice for me, not fame or fortune. Certainly not fortune. The most inspiring story I’ve read in memory was Chris Hamby’s "Breathless and Burdened" series, which won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I’ve never been so proud to work at the Center in my life. That series fulfilled every goal that a great piece of investigative journalism should. It spoke for people who had no voice. It righted wrongs. It fought the power. All the clichés, but in this case they happened to all be true. I was extremely inspired by that series.