David Lesher’s drive to hold elected officials accountable makes his work on the new investigative journalism effort meaningful and imperative.
Seven years ago David Lesher helped found CalMatters with the belief that good state government journalism is essential to the health of our democracy and community.
And now he is stepping forward from his role as editor-in-chief to lead a new, equally bold venture: Building the future of investigative journalism that holds government officials accountable.
Lesher started covering California politics on the re-election campaign trail with U.S. Senator Alan Cranston in 1986. “It had all of the elements: national stakes, Hollywood celebrities, campaign buses and planes, competitive journalists, impressive and exotic candidates,” Lesher writes. “I was hooked. I’ve worked with California politics and policy ever since.”
Lesher worked as a journalist for 25 years, mostly at the Los Angeles Times, where he was a political writer, state Capitol reporter and assistant national editor for presidential campaigns. Before launching CalMatters, he worked as Government Affairs Director for the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank focused on state policy issues.
In 2015 the opportunity to build strong California government and issue news coverage was too good to pass up.
“Now is an exciting time to work on the frontier of a changing media environment, and I am thrilled and honored to have the chance to lead CalMatters as it experiments with innovative techniques and collaborative media partnerships to help people understand the important choices facing California today,” Lesher said when he signed on as CEO and Editor.
Seven years later, CalMatters is the state’s leading government news source and is a national leader in building nonprofit journalism business models.
“Dave Lesher’s vision was a driving force in the creation of CalMatters,” said Simone Coxe, CalMatters co-founder and then board chair, in 2015 when Dave was hired.
And now Lesher will harness his experience to lead an effort to transform investigative government reporting: The California Accountability Project.
“Now it’s time for me to move to my next challenge,” Lesher writes. “I’ll be stepping down as editor of CalMatters next spring to put my full effort into building our new Accountability Desk. So I’m not going anywhere.”
“CalMatters is a success today because of Dave’s vision,” said CalMatters CEO Neil Chase, “and his unique ability to execute on that vision while protecting our journalistic quality and reputation for unbiased work. That’s why I’m so excited about what he’s doing next: The vital accountability journalism that California needs and deserves.”
The new Accountability Desk uses AI technology to boost old school shoe leather reporting, generating data that gives journalists a unique ability to observe, dig into and reveal trends never before seen in state government actions.
The project harnesses CalPoly’s Digital Democracy AI tech to examine voting and public records in combination with CalMatters’ Glass House directory of California legislators to find unique insights in the records of elected leaders.
The Accountability Desk will be a simple, fact-based portal for Californians to learn about and engage with each of the state’s 120 legislators. And it will give expert reporters the time and resources for deep-dive study of state programs and politics.
“This is an exciting opportunity to do something once again that I believe will change California for the better and perhaps change journalism with a team of investigative reporters and new technology tools designed to help journalists cover the policymaking process” Lesher writes.
“I’ve always believed it’s easy to make people angry at government, but that alone doesn’t help. That’s why CalMatters started with a focus on explanatory journalism — to help a broad audience understand the major issues and how or why decisions are made. Now it’s time to add the Accountability Desk with a new layer of transparency and a watchdog capacity that’s essential for a nation-sized state with a $300 billion annual budget.”