Report for America held its National Gathering last week at Loyola University Chicago. From June 8-10, some 250 corps members attended training workshops and forged connections with their fellow journalists. It was the first time the corps had come together in three years.
Those new to the national service program gained a greater perspective of what is expected of them. And for those who joined in the years since the pandemic, it was a chance to finally meet colleagues and be reminded why journalism is so vital.
“I’m the only professional reporter in my newsroom. It can get really isolating, and I question every day whether I’m doing enough or good enough. Meeting hundreds of peers lifted me. It gave me what I needed to come home and keep going, and a support network that will serve me the rest of my career. No amount of Zoom meetings could replace that,” said Katie Hyson, WUFT News, who joined Report for America in 2021 to cover racial and rural inequities in north central Florida.
Two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists delivered remarks to the corps. Maria Hinojosa, the president and founder of Futuro Media, shared her experiences as a Latina journalist (the first to be hired by NPR). She told the corps that the future of democracy was on their shoulders.
“You are journalists of conscience. You are talking about democracy. About dehumanization. About the ground truth,” Hinojosa said. “And you better learn what that means. It means something to all of us. But it means that you are different, actually, and you are part of this long arc of American journalism history.”
Corey Johnson, from ProPublica, also spoke of journalism’s role in strengthening democracy. And as scary as it can be to shoulder that during these polarized times, he offered encouragement.
“Most of all, the best thing you can do is just show up. Show up as your true authentic self, whatever that is,” Johnson said. “We can heal America—story by story, step by step. And all it’s going to require is for you to be you.”
Other speakers included Jill Geisler, the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity at Loyola. Geisler led the journalists through a session on sharing values and strengths. Stefanie Friedoff, Brown University’s School of Public Health, led a workshop focused on personal and work-related mental health. ProPublica’s Adriana Gallardo, an engagement reporter, and John X. Miller, senior editor of the Dallas Morning News, helped the corps better understand how to develop productive working relationships with their newsroom managers.
The corps members also took part in breakout sessions based on their beats and regions.
“I walked away with tips that I know I will be able to use throughout the course of my career, not only with taking care of myself as a journalist, but making sure I’m taking care of the people I’m interviewing,” said Zshekinah Collier, a new corps member reporting on education and the environment for WYPR in Baltimore.
The gathering came to a close with Report for America’s second annual Local News Awards. Prizes were awarded in a dozen categories and many recipients were on hand to receive them. Beyond recognizing journalistic excellence, the ceremony served to inspire new corps members.
With Chicago now behind them, the corps members will return to their newsrooms—ready to take on the under-covered stories of communities across the country. And hopefully, rebuild trust in those communities, according to Steven Waldman, Report for America’s co-founder and president.
“In addition to doing great journalism,” Waldman told the corps, “You are, in effect, modeling for America the attributes that we want them to see and think of when they think about journalism—that you are looking out for them.”
The National Gathering was made possible through the support of the Joyce Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Driehaus Foundation and Chicago Community Trust.
About Report for America
Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities across all 50 states. By creating a new, sustainable model for journalism, Report for America provides people with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and restore trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.