Brant Houston

Knight Chair -- Independent of Knight Foundation

Photo of Brant Houston



Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Brant Houston leads efforts nationally and internationally to find new forms and models for investigative and enterprise reporting.


Brant Houston, the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (IRE), was named to the chair in May 2007. He succeeds Bill Gaines, who held the post since it was established in 2000.

Grant Background

The department's long tradition of emphasis on professional journalism will serve as the underpinning for the Knight Chair in Journalism. The program's resources will be used to teach practical application of investigative techniques through courses, workshops and seminars. Training will encompass print, broadcasting and digital media and will be extended outside the university to staffs of newsrooms and citizens. It will include services to the international press in countries where investigative techniques are developing. As a result of the teaching and research of the Knight Chair, Illinois will serve as a new resource for investigative reporters and editors nationally, as a well as a training center for young journalists and as an intellectual center for the public on issues involving the news media in investigative journalism.

Recent Activities

The continued growth and success of the community news site,, which includes investigative and enterprise reporting with a focus on socioeconomic issues.  The project, which was initiated with a Knight Community Information Challenge grant and funds from a local foundation and the University of Illinois, has produced content for its Web site and social media, the regional NPR station and the regional newspaper. More than 50 students have contributed stories as has a small professional staff. The project has won state awards and national investigative award. Its continued use of Freedom of Information laws and coverage of restaurant inspections has resulted in the county health department creating a system in which city restaurants must post placards showing whether a restaurant passed inspections and the creation of an interactive, searchable county web site on inspection results. In addition, is the news partner for one of 12 innovation grants given out this year, focusing on creating a portal that allows citizens and journalists to search live and archived social media for otherwise unseen events and issues that impact the community life.

The continued growth and success of the Global Investigative Journalism Network of which I am the chair of the board of directors and a co-founder. Since its inception, the Network membership has increased to more than 90 member nonprofit newsrooms world-wide. The network had its most successful conference ever in Rio de Janeiro in October with more than 1,200 attendees from dozens of countries. It now has resource-packed Web site, a small professional staff, and an active social media presence and helping to encourage collaborations and cross-border investigations. It recently held the first ever Asia Investigative Conference.

The revival and building of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, which is concentrating on agribusiness and related topics such as environment and energy – topics terribly underreported in the Midwest, the nation, and internationally. With the help of new board members, we moved the center from Kansas City to Champaign, IL. We have raised several hundred thousand dollars and hired an executive director and reporters, and reconstructed the Web site and its social media strategy. In the past  two year, it has produced dozens of stories, posted useful datasets, collaborated with the 10 NPR stations in Harvest Public Media on significant stories, published data-driven stories as a result of data analysis,  held training seminars, and provided a platform for student work from several universities.

•  What are the most promising changes you see in journalism education as a whole, and why do you think they are hopeful?

I think the faculties and professors have realized that they must substantially update their courses and overall curricula to embrace digital media and tools. Also, the surge of nonprofit newsrooms and university newsrooms  is helping to ensure students get practical experience while creating portfolios.

      Give us an example of a media company or organization that you see doing innovative journalism with impact. How do you use this example in your teaching?

ProPublica is blending meaningful and useful innovation with its investigative stories. I show and discuss the work of ProPublica and other nonprofit newsrooms with students and explore how they might be able to use some of those techniques in their own stories.

      Internet surveillance, freedom and privacy have become central concerns for those journalists in the digital age. What are you teaching your students about those topics?

We discuss the issues of privacy in a digital age and how to protect work and sources on sensitive stories. We also discuss the release of NSA information by Snowden and the issues it has raised, but we all could do a better job of monitoring the state and local efforts that are collecting data on citizens.