Brendan McCarthy

It didn’t take long for Brendan McCarthy’s resume to rise to the top during Louisville Public Media’s national search for a director of its new Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

McCarthy has worked at major newspapers in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans.

A 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, McCarthy has extensive experience as an investigative reporter, having written for the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

His investigations have covered government waste and corruption, human trafficking, civil rights violations and police abuses. McCarthy has received a number of accolades during his career including the Berger Award from Columbia University and the George Polk Award for investigative reporting.

He seems to have unlimited reserves of energy and a passion for journalism.

And he’s just 31.

So, what’s he doing in Louisville?

“This opportunity came up,” he said. “What an adventure. I live and breathe news. I just eat this stuff up. I think it’s important, what we do, getting out there and digging, and telling stories that aren’t being told. This is the best opportunity out there for journalists.”

McCarthy has been on board for about a month, but spent his first few weeks attending conferences. He’s just now getting acquainted with his surroundings, his apartment in the Highlands, and the culture of his new city.

He just announced the hiring of Mark Schaver, a long-time Courier-Journal editor, as the third member of a team that will grow to five when he hires two more reporters. R.G. Dunlop, another C-J veteran with extensive investigative reporting experience, is also on board. 

“We are a non-profit investigative newsroom,” McCarthy said. “Essentially we’re going to do investigative journalism, accountability, watchdog stuff. The folks at LPM, they’ve been doing great work and really growing in recent years. They’ve been increasing. They saw a huge void in investigative public service journalism.”

All this investigating takes time, and money. And McCarthy seems to have the freedom to pursue stories without time constraints or concerns about budgeting. McCarthy said he hasn’t even met the groups who put up the bulk of the start-up money – businessman Ed Hart and members of Jones family of Humana fame. It will likely be months before the first story is done, and there’s no certainty as to how the stories will be presented.

“I haven’t talked to the donors. I don’t know what their ideas are,” he said. “I know we’ll run our newsroom with the highest ethical standards. Every person who donates a dollar to the center will be listed on website. This is full-on transparency.”

The organization raised more than $500,000 to launch the Center and make the first hires. That amount was a number Louisville Public Media general manager Donovan Reynolds targeted before the Center was created. Reynolds told me in June that a new LPM fund-raising campaign, with a goal of $7 million over three years, is in the planning stages.

With Dunlop and Schaver on board, McCarthy maintains there’s plenty of planning to do before the first project is chosen:

We’re building a foundation. Later this year we’ll have our first few projects out. We’re working on partnerships with media partners across the state. It will be everywhere. Our role as a non-profit public medium is to do the biggest, most important stories that are available. We have this great newsroom of super talented folks across the hall, and we can bring larger investigative stuff to their beats.

The luxury of chasing down big stories, and presenting them in new and different ways, is something old-school journalists can vaguely remember, from back in the good old days when the Bingham family controlled the Courier-Journal, WHAS TV and WHAS Radio. McCarthy understands that the changing journalism landscape, in which the newspaper just isn’t doing the work any longer, created this new opportunity.

“When you’re an outlet battling so many things – business issues, the decline of print – it’s hard to say we’re going to spend a year, or months, to work on these projects,” he said. “These are changing times. I don’t think Louisville is much different than other cities. In New Orleans, that paper (the New Orleans Times-Picayune), one of nation’s best, decided not to print every day. When it happened folks were outraged. ‘What do you mean I don’t get a piece of a dead tree delivered with ink by a guy in a truck on my doorstep every morning?’ “

If you’re wondering if there’s really enough scandals to uncover around town, you have to understand the Center’s mission goes beyond Jefferson County.

“We’re Louisville-centric but will also be tackling state issues,” McCarthy said. “There’s a void that exists in the statewide media realm. There’s a media desert in Eastern and Western Kentucky.

“Folks don’t know who’s stealing from them or what their officials are doing or even what the issues are.”