Who We Are
The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation launched 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 the massive shrinking of media budgets and severe trimming of staffs in recent years, investigative reporting projects have been sharply curtailed or eliminated.
This loss is especially noticed in business journalism, since the collapse of investigative efforts coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis. Without an active press to scrutinize business activities, concerned citizens, legislators and regulators have had little insight into the workings of investment and commercial banks, rating agencies and other powerful financial institutions as they have expanded, embarked on complex fiscal arrangements, raked in billions of dollars in proﬁt and, in some cases, abruptly collapsed.
What We Do
Our investigative foundation will produce substantive reporting infused with valuable information and a perspective quite distinct from the glossy outlook spun inside Wall Street’s promotion machine. We will mine corporations’ legal and financial documents and perform old fashioned shoe leather reporting to frame investigations that many media organizations are simply no longer equipped to pursue.
The resulting investigative articles will primarily focus on the many ways that participants in capital markets – including investment managers, auditors, corporations and underwriters – aggressively further their self-interest, often at the expense of investors.
We will scour financial institutions’ own documents – from the skillfully buried footnote inside a quarterly report to the email cited in a little-watched lawsuit – to bring to life important stories that until now have gone untold. These investigative efforts will be published free of charge on our website. The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation is funded solely by donor contributions. Neither the foundation nor its employees will possess an economic interest in any company described in our publications.
Our sole focus is to perform deep-dive reporting on business organizations and our work is not performed at the behest of any political party or interest group. While we are profoundly grateful for the donors whose generosity make this hard work possible, only the foundation and its board will be involved in editorial decisions.
The foundation will adhere to the highest standards of non-proﬁt governance and ethical journalism. Only an independent bookkeeper and the treasurer will have access to the foundation’s checking account. All our stories will be thoroughly fact checked and reporters will provide ample opportunity for comment by all players involved.
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
While our brochure (PDF) should address the broader strokes of what the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation is trying to do, maybe a more informal and wide-ranging explanation, Q & A style, could be helpful filling in the details.
Why should I give to SIRF?
Each of our stories is the result of thousands of dollars of expense: Salary, editing, legal vetting and, in the very near future (hopefully), graphic design and art. We think we are giving the individual investor a resource that only well-heeled investors like hedge funds traditionally have access to. There is no other facet of American life that is so utterly one-sided as the information advantage professional investors have over the less well heeled.
Changing that massive inequality is not cheap.
No one at SIRF argues that there aren’t many other truly worthwhile charities you can and should support in these hard times but if we go away, the only independent journalistic bulwark against the self-dealers, the liars and the promoters in the capital markets comes down.
Those guys want your money. For our part, we are just trying to make it much harder for them to get away with it.
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. Many papers used to do some investigative reporting but because of the newspaper industry’s brutal contraction, many have been forced to drop or sharply curtail it. Even the Times, with their impressive staff, high-level access and corporate wealth have been forced to make brutal cutbacks in allocating investigative resources. Add to this the natural complexity of business journalism, deeply funded corporate public relations and legal efforts 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?
There are indeed several other non-profits that do investigative reporting, most prominent among them Pro Publica and the University of California’s Center for Investigative Reporting, although many others occasionally do business reporting work. Our admiration and respect for all of these efforts is immense, especially Pro Publica and CIR, and SIRF owes a debt of gratitude to all of the reporting non-profits coming before us. Still, our 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?
OK: We might get a tip from a short-seller or company critics. But then, it’s just as accurate to say stories come from anyone and anywhere, and as often as not, from a plain old hunch or long standing interest someone at SIRF has. Our policy on tips is unambiguous: We verify everything using publicly available documents and the tip has to be important enough that the average investor or reader would be interested. Moreover, just because a tipper finds something interesting is no guarantee that we will. Ultimately, however, regardless of where a tip comes from, SIRF controls the decision to pursue a story and only we decide how and when the story is written.
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 experts to flesh out what something really means — and tell us where 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 leave the overtly political slant to others. Investigative reporting designed to amplify the policy views of one group at the expense of another is a truly unfortunate development and one we seek to avoid.
Perhaps a few other things to keep in mind is that we try to take the high road, giving the company or companies we report on every chance to participate in the story, including providing a detailed list of what we are looking at and why. No company we report is going to be surprised by what they read, though they may well be unhappy. Please note the sourcing for our reporting is on the record and drawn from documents.
We do not short stocks or buy puts. No one apart from SIRF’s directors, lawyers and staff sees our work before it is published. What happens to the price of a company’s securities during our reporting or after our story is released is not our concern and does not benefit us in anyway.
What is SIRF’s business model?
We don’t have one. We are reader supported. We write about the capital markets, but receive no benefit for doing so. We do not take advertising. There is nothing we do that makes us economically or legally dependent on anyone else.
We are organized as a nonprofit and have obtained for tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Service section 501(c) 3.
SIRF is a proud dues paying member of the Investigative News Network, a remarkable organization that assists start up investigative news efforts in countless ways such as providing discounted liability insurance, administrative support and information on grants.