IRP launches production company

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The chancellor designate of the University of California, Berkeley today announced the signing of a first of its kind affiliation agreement with a unique production company established by the Investigative Reporting Program.

The agreement, Carol Christ said, “is the first of its kind for our university and will serve to extend Berkeley’s public mission as we join in this essential effort to provide the public with information and insights that are critical for our democracy.”

Christ explained that the partnership would diversify revenue sources that can be used to support the Graduate School of Journalism.

“This is a huge, and essential step, in fulfilling our vision for a new model for supporting investigative reporting,” said Professor Lowell Bergman, director of the Investigative Reporting Program (IRP).

Following her announcement at the 11th annual Reva & David Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting, Professor Bergman, chairman of the new production company’s board, revealed that it had signed an unprecedented first look deal with Amazon Prime Video, a premium on-demand streaming service.

The Unscripted and Original Movies teams at Amazon Prime Video will have a first look at the stories Berkeley’s IRP unearths as the potential source material for Amazon Original docuseries and/or feature films.

Since 2005, when the IRP was founded, its documentaries have been produced by companies that ceded all the rights to their work outright to broadcasters like Frontline and Univision. This imposed both journalistic and financial limits on the IRP just as the demand for nonfiction video was making documentary films viable in the commercial marketplace.

To address those limitations, last year the leadership of the IRP, alumni of the Graduate School of Journalism and other media professionals, formed Investigative Reporting Productions, Inc. (INC), a nonprofit production company. The purpose of the company: to support the university, the Graduate School of Journalism and its IRP.

The contract with Amazon is an example of why we believe our new approach will create new revenue streams to support the work of the IRP and give our work a much broader, global audience, Bergman said. It will also enable us to employ journalism graduate students and alum.

“This is great news,” said Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism. “It’s the first in what we are confident will be a growing number of collaborations between far-sighted media organizations and our Investigative Reporting Program, one of the country’s most respected producers of in-depth journalism. Lowell’s vision and enterprise has created a bold new frontier for the School that extends its reach as a place where first-rate journalism isn’t just taught, but is practiced, to the benefit of huge audiences.”

The IRP has a number of projects under development and its affiliated production company will soon be presenting them to Amazon. To be clear, the agreement does not preclude the IRP from publishing with news organizations or broadcasters.

Until now, the work of the IRP has been largely supported by the family of the late David and Reva Logan. Their philanthropy, and now that of their sons, has been critical to the program’s growth. While the IRP has had generous grants and gifts from a wide variety of individuals and foundations, going forward the production company brings the promise of a new revenue stream by marketing IRP’s productions, reporting, special events, consulting services, as well as forming co-production partnerships.

“Today’s developments not only strengthen the financial viability of the IRP,” Professor Bergman said. “They also help guarantee that the University of California, Berkeley is able to fulfill its mission to train the next generation of investigative journalists through the IRP’s ‘teaching hospital’ approach to journalism education.”

The university also stands to benefit long term from the new production company because it will retain all rights, including without limitation all intellectual property rights, to the produced work, except when such work originates with third parties.

With the launch of the new production company, Professor Bergman will turn more of his attention to its work and his own reporting. He will remain as the Logan Distinguished Chair at the IRP, teaching students and advising on the direction of projects as part of IRP’s senior management team. Responsibility for the day-to-day direction of IRP on July 1 will fall to John Temple, adjunct professor and managing editor of the IRP. The two professors will collaborate in leading the two organizations and making sure they achieve their goals, in consultation with the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism.

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