The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is an independent, nonprofit newsroom devoted to educating the public about crucial issues in the Midwest with a special focus on agribusiness and related topics such as government programs, environment and energy.
Started in 2009 by journalist Mike Sherry, the Center intends to provide training and education for students, professional journalists and citizens to better understand agribusiness and its impact locally, regionally and globally. The Center also plans to use both traditional and innovative digital tools and techniques to analyze data about agribusiness and distribute the results.
The Center has federal 501-(c)-3 status and thus donations made to the Center are tax deductible.
The Center will pursue collaborations with college journalism programs, nonprofit news organizations, citizens, and media outlets. The Center is a member of the Investigative News Network
The Center is generously supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in Chicago and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation in Oklahoma City.
Board and Staff
Pamela G. Dempsey, Executive Director
Pam Dempsey is executive director of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
She also serves as project coordinator for the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium and CU-CitizenAccess.org, a news and social network dedicated to investigative and enterprise coverage of social and economic issues in Central Illinois.
Previously she was a reporter at daily newspapers in Champaign, Ill. and Gallup, New Mexico, covering local governments and Native American issues.
Sandra Robinson, Reporter
Sam Robinson is a reporter for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
She recently joined the faculty at California State University Monterey Bay as an assistant professor of journalism and digital media. Her research and professional writing address agriculture representation and coverage by media, as well as current issues in agriculture.
She also serves as the associate publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review published by the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she received her Ph D.
Sam is a farm-kid from Kansas. She grew up on a family farm in southeast Kansas where she hauled hay, moved cattle, trucked wheat and did whatever else her dad instructed her to do.
Mail: 701 Devonshire Dr., C-33, Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: (312) 970-0395
Board of Directors
William Freivogel, President
Bill Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
He began his journalism career with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1971. He was a member of the newspaper's Washington bureau for 12 years, where he served as assistant bureau chief, focused on the Supreme Court and reported on such historic events as the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
He returned to St. Louis to become the deputy editorial page editor in 1997. Freivogel's editorials on former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Constitution made him a finalist in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize competition.
He also won Sigma Delta Chi's top award in 1991 for a series on the Bill of Rights, and he shared the Sidney Hillman award for a series on civil rights policy changes during the Reagan administration.
Freivogel was the main contributor to a 1987 project that won the Benjamin Franklin award as the best newspaper series on the bicentennial of the Constitution.
In his early years in Washington, he won the Emery A. Brownell Award for stories influential in blocking the Reagan administration's attempt to kill the Legal Services Corp.
He shared the Investigative Reporters and Editors award and National Press Club's Washington correspondence award for stories on defense fraud at General Dynamics Corp. He also won a Washington correspondence award for reporting on dioxin contamination in Missouri and political machinations within the Environmental Protection Agency.
Freivogel won three Connie Rosenbaum awards in the 1970s for stories that reformed the St. Louis bail bond system and cleaned up a corrupt suburban police department after a suspect was killed in police custody.
He and wife Margaret, who also served in the Post-Dispatch's Washington bureau and has served as Sunday editor at the Post-Dispatch, are the parents of four adult children.
Brant Houston, Treasurer
Brant Houston holds the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois.
Houston teaches investigative and advanced reporting in the Department of Journalism in the College of Media at Illinois.
Houston became the chair after serving for more than a decade as the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a 4,000-member organization, and as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Before joining IRE, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 17 years.
Houston also is the author of three editions of the textbook, “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide,” and co-author of the fourth edition and fifth edition of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.”
Currently he is working on projects involving nonprofit journalism, ethnic media newsrooms, and new technologies for news-gathering.
David Herzog, Secretary
David Herzog serves as the academic adviser to the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR), a joint program of the Missouri School of Journalism and Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., a global association of journalists.
Herzog specializes in using geographic information systems (GIS) tools to report the news and is author of the new book Mapping the News: Case Studies in GIS and Journalism, which explores how journalists have used analytic mapping software to discover news stories.
Before joining the J-School faculty in January 2002, Herzog spent five years as an investigative reporter at the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, where he used computer-assisted reporting to cover public corruption.
Earlier, he was the editor for computer-assisted reporting at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., a business reporter for the Baltimore Sun and general assignment reporter for other newspapers in Pennsylvania. Herzog holds a bachelor’s degree in radio-television-film from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Fernando Diaz, Member of the Board
Fernando Diaz is the managing editor of Hoy Chicago, responsible for editorial strategy across print and digital platforms and collaboration with Chicago Tribune’s newsroom.
Before joining Hoy, Fernando was ChicagoNow.com's community manager for news and opinion, where he contributed to the site’s success by creating dynamic content as well as recruiting a diverse base of bloggers; including crafting a post that generated 2.3 million page views. Prior to joining the Tribune Company, he was a bilingual investigative reporter at The Chicago Reporter, producing exclusive, computer-assisted reports on social justice issues and before that, a daily newspaper reporter covering local government at the Daily Herald and Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY).
He is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and a Maryland native. He is on the boards of the Chicago Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Chicago Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists who in 2008 recognized him as its emerging journalist of the year. He was named a finalist for the Livingston Award 2008 and was selected as an ethnic media fellow of the Institute for Justice and Journalism that same year for a project on immigrants in the military. He is a member of IRE and lives in Pilsen, Chicago.
Gary Kebbel, Member of the Board
Gary Kebbel is a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Kebbel is working to create a multidisciplinary, multicampus Center for Mobile Media at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with funding from the Ford Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
He was dean of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications for two years. During that time, the college created the nation's first Drone Journalism Lab, started nearly a dozen new classes, increased enrollment, raised money from new sources and created exchange relationships with universities and institutes in China, India and Russia.
Before coming to Nebraska, Kebbel was the journalism program director at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, where he administered the Knight News Challenge, a $25 million contest to fund digital news innovations and experiments.
As News Director at AOL, he helped build one of the largest news and social sites on the Internet.
He is a founding editor of USA TODAY.com and Newsweek.com.
Kebbel is a Fulbright Senior Specialist who did his Fulbright work in South Africa. He is a member of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission subgroup on media.
He holds master’s degrees in journalism and in political science from the University of Illinois, and a master of social work degree from the Catholic University of America.
Gerry Lanosga, Member of the Board
Gerry Lanosga is an assistant professor at Indiana University’s School of Journalism.
Before earning his PhD in 2010, he spent nearly two decades in journalism, including work as a reporter and columnist at the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star and then as an investigative producer at WTHR in Indianapolis, where his work won numerous state, regional and national honors.
Donna Vestal, Member of the Board
Donna Vestal is the editor of Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration of public media stations across the Midwest devoted to agriculture and food issues.
Working out of KCUR 89.3 in Kansas City, she created and launched Harvest in 2010 with the support of a dedicated team of journalists.
A newspaper veteran, Veteran worked nearly 18 years as an assistant business editor for The Kansas City Star, where she directed small business, retail, development, workplace and health care beats, among others.
Her agriculture focus dates back to the 1980s, when she served as news editor of The Packer, a national weekly newspaper for the fruit and vegetable industry.
She also was the lead researcher and writer for “A Century of Produce,” a book commemorating The Packer’s 100th anniversary.
Vestal has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and an MBA from the University of Kansas.