The Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting has just announced that it will launch investigations into a number of unsolved, racially-motivated murders committed during the Civil Rights era.

CIR will team up with Paperny Films of Vancouver, WNET of New York, National Public Radio, the National Archives, and other organization to form the Civil Rights Cold Case Project. Using traditional and multi-media journalistic techniques, the project plans to look into the unsolved murders and create web videos, podcasts, and data bases about the crimes and the information the reporters collect.

“These investigations will reopen unsolved murders that still cause pain to families and divide our communities,” said Robert Rosenthal, the executive director of CIR. “By seeking truth and justice, these investigative journalists and all of the partners involved will have real impact by moving our country closer to its goal of leaving racial conflict behind.”

The group has a web page with a list of cases it intends to pursue.

The creation of this new investigative unit is further evidence of the resurgence of CIR, which was founded in 1977. Its California Watch, which has a group of reporters focusing on investigative stories in California, has exposed a number of important issues. California Watch has a contract with a number of news outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle, so its stories are getting wide play.

A number of independent news organizations have popped up in recent years to supply stories for more established media. With thousands of experienced reporters laid off in recent years, these groups have been able to put together sophisticated news teams. Most of the groups, like CIR and ProPublica are nonprofits. The New York Times recently wrote about the strengths and weaknesses of this news reporting model.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...