Today, QuorumColumbia.org celebrates its one-year anniversary as an independent investigative journalism website in the Midlands, and we’re hoping for many, many more to come. Rather than bore you with a long list of thank-yous, however, it seems more fitting to Quorum’s mission to focus on impact.
Consider the past month Quorum has had alone:
- On June 19, Quorum broke this story about massive internal concerns about the Columbia Fire Department, reporting that included specifics about a purchasing director’s decision to ignore an ongoing series of trial tests for new fire gloves and order old ones that were not part of the range of products tested by the department, thousands of missing fire reports and the closing of a station downtown due to longstanding mold issues that would have been the closest responding unit in an arson fire that claimed the life of an 80-year-old woman. Last week, in a terse email to staff on Wednesday, July 5, Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins announced that Assistant Chief Michael Edmonds was terminated, effective immediately.
- On June 23, a session of the State Grand Jury of South Carolina returned six more indictments of forgery and obstruction of justice against SCALE, Inc, CEO Patricia Ford related to hospitality-tax fraud first exposed by Quorum, bringing the total number of indictments to 11.
- On June 15, this story about widespread bullying at Hand Middle School became the most-read story in Quorum’s short history in a matter of days, and shortly after the school year was over Hand was without its principal and two of his top three grade-level administrators.
- On June 8, Quorum broke the story of how the controversial Pinewood Lake Park Foundation paid $104,000 over the past year to two businesses created just weeks before receiving hospitality-tax funds, $37,000 of which was expressly forbidden by the County’s contract with the charity.
Over the course of the year, reporting from Quorum led to the resignation of former Richland County Recreation Commission Executive Director James A. Brown II and the removal by then-Gov. Nikki Haley of all remaining members of the Recreation Commission Board except one.
Quorum’s in-depth reporting on Richland County Councilman Norman Jackson and his financial connections to two charity CEOs who receive hundreds of thousands of hospitality-tax dollars — Pat Ford of SCALE and Liewendelyn Hart of the Pinewood Lake Park Foundation — led directly to the opening of a South Carolina Attorney General and FBI investigation into public corruption that remains ongoing to this day.
Quorum even had to defend itself in court against completely fallacious charges by Hart of stalking and harassment against Quorum editor Ron Aiken that were quickly dismissed in an important victory for journalism.
On the awards front, Aiken won Runner-Up Grand Prize Champion of the Overall Professional for investigative reporting at the most prestigious investigative journalism competition in the entire Southeast sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Larry Peterson Awards. Aiken’s work on the Richland County Recreation Commission finished just behind the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ahead of the Charleston Post & Courier — both Pulitzer-Prize winning papers with a staffs of hundreds.
In short, Quorum has made a mark. From breaking the story about alleged abuses of the national Fair Labor Standards Act by Richland School District One that launched a Department of Labor investigation that continues today to being the only outlet to report that USC’s College of Arts & Sciences had blown through $30 million in reserves, covering the biggest local stories in education, state and local government and energy issues — not to mention the odd podcast, poem and film review — has been and will continue to be the standard every Quorum story must meet.
It has been a privilege and honor to do this work, and my strongest hope is that it can continue, because the work needs doing. If this model — engaged subscribers supporting local journalism that matters — can work, there’s truly a future for investigative journalism as bright as its past.
One year in, it’s been an amazing run so far. Can’t wait to see what year two holds, and I do, very much, hope you’ll subscribe today and join this effort to do something important that, like it or not, simply isn’t being done anymore, and we are all the worse for it.