THE BLOG
11/11/2014 10:54 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Passing the Journalism Torch

Thirty years ago (though this seems hard for me to believe), I was teaching at The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

One of my best students was a bright young man named Peter Klein.

When I left Columbia to found Video News International, a media company, which would one day become New York Times Television, I took Peter with me. The impetus behind VNI was that U.S. networks were closing their bureaus around the world, and new lighter technology in the hands of journalists could fill that gap.

After a few years of working for me at the Times, he left to become a very successful producer at 60 Minutes, winning a string of awards and creating a stellar career for himself.

Then, a few years ago, Peter left 60 Minutes to take up a teaching position at The University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in Vancouver.

Then, a few years ago, Peter founded something called The Global Reporting Center. He's the Founding Director.

In a way, with The Global Reporting Center, Peter has picked up the thread that VNI began - filling the gap left by conventional networks, using new and far less expensive technologies. I asked Peter what was behind the Global Reporting Center:

"What we're trying to build with the Global Reporting Centre is an experiment around global journalism without the profit motive. I firmly believe that if you take out the issue of profit from this kind of reporting, you can do great work that resonates with audiences. It's what places like Pro Publica, Center for Public Integrity and Center for Investigative Reporting have done with domestic investigative reporting. And we have proof of concept. We went to Uganda to look at access to morphine for dying cancer patients, for God' sake -- a pretty intense, depression story that you might guess would be hard to give away. But we took the right approach, had some great characters and stories, and were able to produce a piece for CBS Sunday Morning that was hugely popular -- not to mention a website that won a long list of awards, and an Al Jazeera documentary. And then the "Dateline" show of Canada, Global 16x9, saw our stuff and asked if they could use our footage to create a two-parter of their own. All our material is available for free under creative commons, so we copied our drive and mailed it to them, and they produced a great piece themselves. 4 major works of journalism, all for a field and production budget of $100,000. That's a 60 Minutes correspondent's first class flight and accommodations for an international piece.

The revolution I'm trying to lead is that there's low hanging fruit out there, some important, compelling stories that are simply neglected. We're doing for global journalism what Doctors Without Borders is doing for medicine -- addressing the neglected issues that no one else seems to be addressing."

Next month, Peter is sending 10 of his top grad students to Benin, Togo, India and Jordan, to document the challenges of treating mental illness in the developing world - a project in the spirit of early VNI (like Dylan, before he went electric). He has most of this project funded, but he has launched a crowdfunding site to raise the last $25,000.

If investigative, international and quality journalism are going to survive the Internet, it is going to be because of projects like this.