Report for America's winning news organizations
street-238458.jpg

The crisis in local journalism – a.k.a. the crisis in local democracy, a.k.a. why you can’t find out if your water is polluted or your mayor is corrupt – begs for a dramatic response. Today, Report for America is issuing a call to service to emerging journalists to help provide that dramatic response.

Report for America, a national service program for journalists, has a simple but ambitious mission: to serve communities by strengthening local reporting. We recruit talented emerging journalists and place them in innovative local  newsrooms.

We’ve got two major announcements:

  • After an intense competition, Report for America has selected nine inspiring news organizations to host Report for America corps members. They’re all top-notch local newsrooms with exciting plans for how to use a corps member to tackle crucially important under-covered communities or topics.
  • We are opening the application process for prospective corps members. More info here.

The news organizations include a mix of newspapers that are trying exciting new approaches (the Dallas Morning News, the Victoria Advocate, the Macon Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times), digital-native startups (MississippiToday.com, TheIncline.com, BillyPenn.com), public TV and radio stations (KRWG in Las Cruces, New Mexico and Mississippi Public Broadcasting) and journalism schools (the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State).

They are targeting the RFA corps members at critical needs – like covering poverty in Southeast New Mexico or the state legislature in Pennsylvania. 

Interested in helping to save local democracy through great reporting? We’re looking for emerging journalists with great skills and a deep spirit of public service. More about what we’re looking for here.

These nine organizations join three pilot programs that began earlier in the year in Appalachia: the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the Lexington Herald-Leader and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. By the way, our first three corps members are crushing it.    

The Report for America model is unique in several ways. The funding model splits the burden three ways, with half the salary of the new reporter picked up by Report for America and the other half paid by the local news organization and local philanthropy.  

It’s also unusual because the corps members will be doing direct community service in addition to their public service reporting – working with local high schools to create student run websites or other projects related to story telling or media.

The preliminary funding comes from Google News Lab, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Select Equity Group Foundation, the Galloway Family Fund and others. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a non-profit news organization that trains young journalists to cover important stories.

 

Steven Waldman
Report for America announces winning news outlets participating in local journalism program (press release)

Pioneering public service program also opens application process for young journalists to serve in undercovered communities

Contact: Michelle Hillman, mhillman@inkhouse.com

NEW YORK, February 8, 2018  — Report for America today announced that nine news organizations have joined its national movement to strengthen democracy by improving the quality and quantity of local news. At the same time, Report for America this week started taking applications for the next group of emerging journalists to work in these local newsrooms in undercovered corners of the country. Reporters can apply to participate as corps members in Report for America here.

Report for America, the only journalism initiative in the U.S. that combines public service with its mission to cover local news, recruits talented young journalists and deploys them into local news organizations.  

The winning news organizations, chosen through a highly competitive process, were selected based on their commitment to public service, their track record of mentoring and their plans for using the corps member effectively. They are: Dallas Morning News; KRWG (Las Cruces, New Mexico); The Macon Telegraph (Georgia, in collaboration with the News Co/Lab of Arizona State University); Chicago Sun-Times; The Victoria Advocate (Texas); The Incline (Pittsburgh) and Billy Penn (Philadelphia); Mississippi Today; and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.   

Report for America corps members will join these news organizations in June.

The news organizations were selected in an application process in which editors described major gaps in community coverage and how they would use a Report for America corps member to provide better coverage. Report for America corps members are now working in Appalachia for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Charleston Gazette-Mail and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting and training a new generation of journalists to report in undercovered corners of the world. GroundTruth’s Report for America initiative has received seed funding from Google News Lab, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Galloway Family Foundation and the Select Equity Group Foundation.

“The overwhelming response from both news organizations and prospective reporters is thrilling,” said Steven Waldman, President and co-founder of Report for America. “Clearly there’s a growing recognition that the crisis in local journalism poses a real threat to democracy and to the health of communities.”

“We believe that by putting reporters on the ground, in the communities, we will not only improve journalism but increase trust,” said Charles Sennott, co-founder of Report for America and CEO and Editor of The GroundTruth Project. “We can see from the reporters already in Appalachia, these emerging journalists are committed to public service and able to make a dramatic impact right away.”

Report for America’s goal is to place 1,000 reporters in community newsrooms in the next five years.

Under this unique model, half of the reporter’s salary is paid by Report for America and the other half is covered locally, usually through a combination of direct newsroom support and local philanthropy.

Report for America corps members will receive an intensive, 10-day training workshop and orientation before they join their news organizations.

Once embedded in their host newsrooms, Report for America corps members will be managed by the local editors, and will receive mentoring and training through the year. They will be required to complete a public service project such as working with local students on their school news websites or newspapers.

Report for America received 250 applications for the first three reporting slots and more than 85 local news organizations applied for one of the nine opportunities to host RFA corps members.

More about host media organizations and coverage areas:

 

Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Morning News is Texas' largest news organization.  

The Report for America corps member will cover the growing communities of second-generation Hispanic immigrants in North Texas so their interests will be represented in the Morning News’ journalism and in the area’s institutions.

 

KRWG in Las Cruces, New Mexico

 

Located at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, KRWG operates NPR and PBS stations and a news website, krwg.org, serving southern New Mexico, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.    

The Report for America corps member will do radio, TV and print pieces, covering education, healthcare, economic development, and sustainability in a challenging desert environment.

 

Macon Telegraph & the News Co/Lab of the Cronkite School

The Telegraph, the leading news organization of Macon Georgia, is part of the McClatchy organization. It is a partner in the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University, which includes Mercer's journalism program and Georgia Public Broadcasting's Macon radio station. CCJ's goal is to train the next generation of watchdog and digitally-focused journalists.

The Telegraph is partnering with the Co/Lab of the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in a project to promote trust and engagement with readers. The RFA corps member will be a key player in this effort, working with local residents to select issues of significant public interest (including, potentially, health care disparities, blight and poverty) and producing stories and other content on those topics.

 

Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times is the legendary news voice of Chicago’s working class. The news organization was recently acquired by a diverse consortium of philanthropists, business leaders and Chicago area labor organizations.

The Report for America corps member will focus on covering neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides, where crime, housing, education and environmental challenges persist. The reporter will focus not only on writing about problems in those areas, but also on efforts to lift up those communities, including business development, infrastructure improvements and social-service interventions. He or she will cover government and community events; be a watchdog for taxpayer dollars, and tell the stories of everyday people.

 

Victoria Advocate

Established in 1846 – the same year the Republic of Texas joined the Union – the Advocate has a rich tradition of local ownership and stewardship of its community. It was named the Newspaper of the Year in 2014 by the Local Media Association.

The Report for America corps member will cover local government in Victoria and assist the Advocate’s coverage of how Hurricane Harvey exposed and intensified the gap between the Texas Gulf Coasts’ richest and poorest residents.

 

Billy Penn and The Incline
Billy Penn and The Incline cover Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, respectively, focusing on young news consumers using mobile devices and building community via both vibrant online presences and frequent offline events.

The Report for America corps member will cover the state legislature in Harrisburg (one of the most undercovered state houses in the nation) and will focus on issues of importance to residents of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh

 

Mississippi Today

MississippiToday.org is dedicated to providing Mississippians with reporting that inspires active interest in their state and equips them to engage in community life.

One Report for America corps member will expand written coverage of public policy issues, particularly health care, in the nation’s poorest state, especially in the Mississippi Delta and other poverty-affected areas.

A second Report for America corps member will work as a photojournalist to illustrate through a visual approach to storytelling the impact of public policy issues such as health care, education and income security in the Delta. Video skills will be a plus.  

 

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

Mississippi Public Broadcasting is an eight station statewide television and radio network.

The Mississippi Delta remains one of the most deprived regions in the country. The Report for America corps member will help examine how poverty affects the lives of residents and resources needed to address their critical needs.  

About Report for America

Report for America is the only nonprofit journalism initiative in the U.S. that combines public service with its mission to cover the news. Launched in 2017 and donor-financed, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that strengthens communities and journalism. Our mission is to deploy talented, service-oriented journalists into undercovered areas, provide Americans with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and rebuild trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit media organization with an established track record of training and supporting teams of emerging journalists around the world and in the US.

 

Steven Waldman
Why It's Time to Report for America
xtd-174719.jpg

By Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott

It’s time to face facts. The existing commercial media model alone will not sustain journalism, especially local news. The business model is broken, and it will likely worsen, as ever more local businesses turn to social media and search.

We do think that this kind of journalism is a public service but it would benefit both the reporter, the news organization and the community.

It’s also time to realize that the other crisis in media – the loss of trust – is not going to get solved just through better fact checking, though that’s essential.

The twin crises of local news – the crises of the pocketbook and of the soul – threaten democracy, and require a dramatically different approach. We think the answer comes not only from the world of news innovation, but the hundreds of national and community service programs that have sprung up in the last few decades, such as Teach for America, Code for America, City Year and AmeriCorps. That’s why today we are launching Report for America – a privately-financed national service program for journalists. It’s based at the GroundTruth Project in partnership with Google News Labs, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and other innovative funders.

A National Service Model

In terms of structure, a national service model can help get boots on the ground, hundreds and ultimately thousands of new reporters into local communities. More important, the approach can also reawaken the spirit of public service in young journalists – or for those many who still have that idealistic drive, give them the opportunity to do the civically-important work that they’re desperate to do.

Here’s how it’s going to work. Would-be corps members will apply to Report for America, in a process that will be highly selective. Tell us: do you have the skills and character to make a difference in a community right away? In a parallel process, news organizations will make the case for how they will put Report for America corps members to awesome use in doing needed local reporting. Any kind of news organization will be eligible: public radio, newspapers, digital native sites, journalism schools, or local TV.

The selected corps members will be deployed in the winning local news organizations. Before they get there, they will undergo a rigorous training process, covering both meta-skills like how to help a community tell its story, to nitty gritty topics like how to read a municipal budget. What’s more, the Google News Lab, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Solutions Journalism Network will be conducting training that will give the reporters extraordinary skills that can bring value to a newsroom on day one.

The national RFA program will pay 50 percent of the cost, the local newsroom will pay a quarter, and a local supporter will pay a quarter. It’s a great deal for the newsroom. Buy one get three free. For a local donor, it’s a great deal too. They don’t have to set up a whole new nonprofit news organization; they can invest down $10,000 and get a reporter in the community. Perhaps communities will use crowd-funding platforms to raise the money. (“Donate $25 and help make sure an environmental reporter can make sure our drinking water is safe!”)

A pilot program will start placing journalists in early 2018. Both reporters and news organizations can let us know of their interest now.

 

A Real Impact In The Community

RFA will be able to actually expand the capacity of the local news ecosystem, creating more permanent local jobs – in part by unlocking local donors, large and small. They need a simple, relatively low-cost, reputable, effective way to help out. This provides the vehicle for those who have now come to understand that not only does democracy suffer in the abstract, but communities are less able to solve their own problems when they have lousy information.

We’re also going to have a service requirement for reporters. Yes, we do think that this kind of journalism is a public service but it would benefit both the reporter, the news organization and the community for the corps member to engage in a more direct way. Our current favorite idea: have them work in local high schools or middle schools to help create or improve the student-run website, newspaper or program. Really, every high school in American should have a well-functioning student news operation. This will help develop leaders, and future journalist, and help build trust in the news media.

There’s a perennial debate in the national service world over whether the programs are really for the communities or the servers. The answer, of course, is it needs to be for both. The reporters must do great work, genuinely improving the information available to local residents. But we do expect that this could be a transformative experience for the corps members. Even those who don’t end up staying in journalism will carry the experience with them, much as Peace Corps volunteers do. Perhaps they will be ambassadors to the non-media world, helping to explain what reporters do. Or perhaps they’ll take the very important skills they’ll be learning – how to tell the story of a community and how to truly listen to someone different from you – and use that in their next job.

We all know “the media” is mistrusted by the public. Obviously some of that has to do with the attacks on the press rather than any deficiencies in reportage. But we also know that the current business model has made it very difficult for even the best intentioned journalists to do the kind of work that they want to do. Volume is emphasized over depth; click-bait over on-the-ground reporting; pontificating over listening.

Most journalists want to strengthen communities, help those without voices, and hold powerful institutions accountable. Most journalists, in fact, are patriots. It’s time for an approach that will let them show that. It’s time to Report for America.

This ariticle originally ran on MediaShift. Charles Sennott and Steven Waldman are the co-founders of Report for America. Sennott is the Founder and CEO of The GroundTruth Project and co-founder of GlobalPost as well as a longtime reporter for the Boston Globe. Waldman is founder of Beliefnet.com, LifePosts.com and author of books about both local news and AmeriCorps.
 

Steven WaldmanVision