Who We Are
The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation formed in 2012 with the goal of providing in-depth financial investigative reporting for the common good.
We believe investigative journalism is a critical independent tool for ensuring government and corporate accountability and uncovering concealed but crucial information. With a massive decline in the resources available to many news organizations in recent years, investigative reporting projects at established papers and magazines have too often been sharply curtailed or eliminated.
This loss is keenly felt in business journalism, where the wholesale departure of a generation of experienced editors and reporters–often deeply versed in the technicalities of accounting, finance and the broader capital markets–removed an important civic safeguard for both consumer protection and accountability.
What We Do
Our foundation produces substantive investigative reporting without fear or favor. These investigations bring to life important stories that are going untold, illuminating the many ways investors, workers and market stakeholders are regularly mislead or deceived.
We accomplish this through carefully mining corporate legal and financial filings, such as an unflattering footnote skillfully buried inside a quarterly report, as well as so-called shoe leather reporting, to present the clearest possible picture of our subjects.
Our completed investigations are published free of charge, without advertisements or sponsors. Reported without fear or favor, the hallmark of the foundation’s reporting is a commitment to accuracy, a fundamental fairness in our approach, and the clarity of our presentation.
The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation is funded solely by donor contributions. Neither the foundation, its directors nor its employees will ever have an economic interest in the subject of our reporting.
Board of Directors
A former senior reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Bloomberg News and the author of many books on journalism, Christopher Roush serves as the director of the business journalism program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The author of three best-selling books exposing the inner workings of Wall Street’s highest-profile firms, The Last Tycoons, House of Cards and Money and Power, William D. Cohan is a former investment banker who frequently contributes to the New York Times and is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair.
The Huffington Post named Roderick Boyd one of the 25 most feared financial reporters in America. His book about the near collapse of AIG, Fatal Risk, was long listed for 2011’s Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. A former staffer at Fortune, the New York Post, The New York Sun and Institutional Investor News, Boyd founded and edited The Financial Investigator blog. In addition to teaching investigative reporting at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), he regularly leads seminars at Investigative Reporters and Editors conferences on Financial Statement Analysis and Fraud Detection. His work has prompted numerous regulatory, civil and criminal actions.
Bethany McLean is a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, Yahoo! Finance and a former Fortune magazine editor. She is co-author of two best-selling books on corporate fraud, All the Devils Are Here and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which served as the basis for an Academy Award-nominated ﬁlm.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I give to SIRF?
Most of our stories are the result of the investment of thousands of dollars: salary, editing, legal vetting, some travel and, (hopefully), art. The resulting journalism is a resource that with few exceptions is now limited to well-heeled institutional investors who can afford forensic accountants and analysts, lawyers and private-investigators.
The foundation argues that this disparity of information access is one of the larger inequalities in American civic life.
Bridging this chasm is worth doing but is not cheap.
What is the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation doing that my local paper, or the New York Times, isn’t?
Your local paper is no doubt staffed by earnest and hard working journalism professionals but the world they operate in has changed massively over the past 10 years. For example, most local newspapers have, because of the newspaper industry’s brutal contraction, been forced to drop or sharply curtail it. Even the Times or the Washington Post, with their impressive staffs and global reach, have been forced to make brutal cutbacks in allocating investigative resources. Add to this the inherent complexity of business journalism, as well as the richly-funded corporate public relations and legal advisory efforts so many corporations use to burnish their image, and you get to a place where investigative reporting on capital markets issuers is at an all-time low.
(Executive summary: Bad guys have very little likelihood of being called out by business reporters these days. We’re trying to change that.)
What about the other investigative reporting non-profits?
Other tax-exempt organizations do investigative reporting, most prominent among them Pro Publica, The Center for Public Integrity, The Marshall Project and The Center for Investigative Reporting, among many others. Our professional admiration and respect for all of these efforts, large or small, is immense, and given the numerous Pulitzer Prizes awarded nonprofit newsrooms, there can be no doubt of independent journalism’s heroic accomplishments.
That said, SIRF’s reporting is entirely focused on business and the capital markets, and is not just a one-time investigation or a beat within a larger operation. This is all we do and we think that our experience and commitment shows.
How do stories get generated? If you guys are trying to be transparent, why don’t you disclose that you might get tips from a short-seller or company critics?
Good business reporting can emerge from hundreds of different scenarios. An idea may well come from someone with an agenda, like a short-seller, a whistle-blower or a disgruntled employee, but just as often it can develop from a reporter’s digging into a buried disclosure.
Here is the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation policy on tips: we unambiguously love them. Moreover, to the fullest extent of applicable state and federal press shield laws we will protect the identity of those reaching out to us.
Whatever the tipper’s agenda is, it’s what happens after the tip comes in–what the foundation does prior to the decision to pursue a story–that separates our process from other organizations. As a matter of course, we verify all information from a source through documents (preferably publicly available in some fashion) as well as multiple interviews, and we have paid independent experts, like lawyers and accountants, to weigh in. We have found that this process is quite effective at scrubbing away agendas.
The only agenda that will be evident in our reporting is a commitment to illuminating concealed or misunderstood truths, without fear or favor.
What is different about SIRF’s approach to reporting?
Good reporting is hard work, bordering on obsession. We make no claim to having the franchise for it, but we do think we do more of it, line for line, than most other journalism outlets. For instance, we really, really closely scrutinize documents, build detailed spreadsheets, search footnotes and seek out (and pay) experts to flesh out what something really means — and to tell us if we are wrong. We think this single-minded approach is increasingly rare these days given the huge workloads and time constraints investigative reporters in the mainstream media are under.
For every story we publish you can be fairly confident that we’ve looked into a dozen more and dropped them, because we believe in accountability, not fitting the facts into a handy narrative. While we’re at it, in so far as we can, we will leave the overtly political slant to others. Investigative reporting that amplifies a group’s policy views is a truly unfortunate development and one we seek to avoid.
The foundation is committed to the highest standards in the practice of investigative reporting, such as giving the subjects of our reporting every chance to participate in the story. In addition to seeking interviews, we provide our subjects with a detailed list of what has informed our reporting and we prominently display both the questions posed to a subject as well as their answers. No subject of our reporting is going to be surprised by what they read, though they may well be unhappy.
What is SIRF’s business model?
We don’t have one. We are reader supported. We write about the capital markets, but do not benefit from any asset price movements. We do not accept advertising or sponsored stories. Nothing the foundation does makes us economically or legally dependent on anyone else.
We are organized as a nonprofit and in 2013 obtained tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Service section 501(c)3.
SIRF is a proud dues paying member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, an organization founded in 2009 to serve as a clearinghouse for assisting independent investigative news organizations with their logistical, operational and business development issues.