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U. of I. names prominent journalist to fill chair in investigative reporting

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor

Brant Houston
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Photo courtesy University of Missouri
Brant Houston has been named to the Knight Chair for Investigative and Enterprise Reporting. He'll begin work on Aug. 16.

Released 5/11/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Brant Houston, the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (IRE), has been named to the Knight Chair for Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois, pending approval by the U. of I. Board of Trustees at its May 17 meeting in Chicago.

Houston, also a professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where IRE is based, is scheduled to start at the U. of I. on Aug. 16. He would succeed Bill Gaines, a former Chicago Tribune reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, who has held the Knight Chair at Illinois since it was established in 2001.

Walt Harrington, the chair of the journalism department at Illinois, described Houston as “the most distinguished teacher of investigative journalism in the country, and probably in the world. He’s the best of the best, and we’re excited and honored that he’s going to be joining us.”

Houston has been the executive director of IRE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting, since 1997. During the three years prior to that, he was the managing director of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a joint program of IRE and Missouri’s journalism school.

In those roles, Houston has conducted more than 250 professional workshops and lectures on investigative and computer-assisted reporting for U.S. and foreign journalists, along with his teaching as a professor in the journalism school. He is the author of “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide,” and one of three co-authors of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.”

Houston also chairs the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Prior to joining IRE and Missouri, Houston worked as an investigative reporter for 17 years at several newspapers, including The Hartford Courant (1985-94) and The Kansas City Star (1981-85).

At the Star, he was part of a staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for general news reporting for its coverage of a walkway collapse in 1981 at the city’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, an accident that killed more than 100 people. In 1983 he won a Headliner Award for his investigation into misconduct by Kansas City area building inspectors.

Houston also has received numerous regional awards for investigative stories on a broad range of topics, among them waste and fraud in the Small Business Administration, injustice in a state bail system and mistreatment of veterans in a state hospital.

The Illinois journalism program prides itself on its emphasis on strong public affairs reporting, Harrington said. The hiring of Houston “certainly reinforces and enhances that tradition in an absolutely solid fashion,” he said. “We also believe that he’ll leverage his wide network of influence and connections in the field to enhance the role and place of the Knight Chair at Illinois.”

The Knight Chair, funded by a $1.5 million endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is one of 22 endowed chairs established nationwide by the foundation since 1990. The Illinois chair is the only one that focuses on investigative and enterprise reporting.