Report for America opens Applications for New York & Connecticut News Organizations to Host Criminal Justice Reporters
National service program to provide second class of talented journalists to local newsrooms

CONTACT: Maggie Messitt, mmessitt@reportforamerica.org

 

August 14, 2018

Report for America announced today that the applications are open for New York and Connecticut news organizations interested in hosting journalists to report on criminal justice issues in 2019 - 2020.

With support from The Tow Foundation, Report for America is able to support two full-time reporters in selected New York and Connecticut newsrooms to cover criminal justice particularly where coverage intersects with public health issues.

The Tow Foundation’s investment in Report for America intersects with two of its program goals: supporting the next generation of journalists and promoting the fair and equitable treatment of those who are in, or at risk of involvement in, our nation’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Foundation’s geographic focus is primarily in New York and Connecticut.

Emily Tow Jackson, Executive Director and President of The Tow Foundation, said, "The social justice issues of our time are complex and the public deserves to hear the truth about what is impacting their communities. Report for America's two new positions in New York and Connecticut will support a pipeline of emerging journalists while also having significant impact in the region."

Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, which trains and supports a new generation of journalists.

Click here to learn more and apply.

 

This corps of journalists will join newsrooms across the country in June 2019. If a news organization is selected and a corps member is placed in their newsroom, Report for America pays half the salary for an entry level position. The other half is split between the news organization and local donors. RFA also provides extensive training and support throughout the year.

The deadline for newsrooms to apply is October 31. More information about how the program works can be found here.

The national service program’s first class is currently in newsrooms around the country.  Thirteen extraordinarily talented, emerging journalists were selected from 990 applications.

All news organizations across all platforms are eligible to apply. The application asks newsrooms to identify specific gaps in their coverage, drawing attention to  under-covered communities or issues. And it requires applicants to craft a beat that would seek to address those gaps. As part of the specific initiative supported by The Tow Foundation, New York or Connecticut news organizations must have a plan to enhance criminal justice coverage and may structure their application to take one or two reporters.  

In 2018, 13 Report for America corps members were placed in 11 host newsrooms to report on undercovered topics and underserved communities for the Charleston Gazette-Mail (WV), Chicago Sun-Times (IL), Dallas Morning News (TX), The Incline / Billy Penn (PA), KRWG (NM), Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MS), Mississippi Today (MS), Telegraph (GA), Victoria Advocate (TX), West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WV.)

Click here to learn more and apply.

Report for America: Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local news rooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.

Launched in 2017 and donor-financed, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides 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. For more, visit www.reportforamerica.org

 


The GroundTruth Project: The GroundTruth Project is a Boston-based, independent, non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the US and around the world. In the last five years, GroundTruth has supported 150 reporting fellowships as far away as Myanmar, Egypt and Somalia and as close to home as Kentucky, Minnesota, and Montana. GroundTruth’s  newest initiative 'Report for America' seeks to address a crisis in local journalism in America which has become a crisis for our democracy. By deploying RFA corps members into RFA host newsrooms for one year of public service reporting, RFA is trying to create a movement to restore trust in journalism and serve communities that need better coverage of the issues in their community. For more, visit www.thegroundtruthproject.org


The Tow Foundation:  Established in 1988 by Leonard and Claire Tow, the foundation envisions a society where all people have the opportunity to enjoy a high quality of life and have a voice in their community. The Foundation supports non-profit organizations that serve vulnerable populations and help individuals to become positive contributors to society for the benefit of themselves and others. The Foundation supports projects that offer transformative experiences to individuals and creating collaborative ventures in fields where we see opportunities for breakthroughs, reform, and benefits for underserved populations. Investments focus on the support of innovative programs and system reform in the areas of juvenile and criminal justice, groundbreaking medical research, higher education and cultural institutions. www.towfoundation.org/

Applications Open for News Organizations That Want to Host Report for America Journalists

 

National service program seeks to invigorate local journalism

AUGUST 1, 2018

CONTACT: Maggie Messitt, mmessitt@reportforamerica.org, 412-352-6309

 

Report for America announced today that the applications are now open for news organizations interested in hosting journalists in 2019-2020.  

Click here to learn more and apply.

This corps of journalists will join newsrooms across the country in June 2019. If a news organization is selected and a corps member is placed in their newsroom, Report for America pays half the salary for an entry level position, up to $20,000. The other half is split between the news organization and local donors. RFA also provides extensive training and support throughout the year.

The deadline is October 31. More information about how the program works can be found here.

The national service program’s first class is currently in newsrooms around the country.  Thirteen extraordinarily talented emerging journalists were selected from 990 applications.

All news organizations are eligible to apply. The application asks newsrooms to identify specific gaps in their coverage, drawing attention to under-covered communities or issues. And it requires applicants to craft a beat that would seek to address those gaps.

Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

In 2018, Report for America corps members are reporting on undercovered topics and underserved communities for the Charleston Gazette-Mail (WV), Chicago Sun-Times (IL), Dallas Morning News (TX), , the Incline / Billy Penn (PA), KRWG (NM), Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MS), Mississippi Today (MS), Telegraph (GA), Victoria Advocate (TX), West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WV).

In addition to the general RFA application, the 2019 program will include separate competitions to expand the existing Appalachian corps and for news organizations in Connecticut and New York State, with a focus on criminal justice issues.

The first wave of reporters have already had a tremendous impact.

“Report for America had an immediate impact, allowing us to reopen a bureau shuttered 7 years ago in an economically tattered corner of America,” said John Stamper, deputy editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, where Report for America corps member Will Wright has been working since January. “Will Wright brought statewide attention to the plight of people who lack clean water and exposed a questionable economic development program before the legislature could make it law. And he’s just getting started.”

The Chicago Sun-Times has placed two Report for America corps members in previously under-covered parts of the city. “Our RFA corps members, Carlos Ballesteros and Manny Ramos, have been on the job for about a month, and they've not only helped improve our coverage of underserved communities and under-covered subjects, but they've also helped sharpen our institutional prism,” said Chris Fusco, Editor-in-Chief of the Sun-Times.

Learn more and apply.

Report for America: Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local news rooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.

Launched in 2017 and donor-financed, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides 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.

The GroundTruth Project: The GroundTruth Project is a Boston-based, independent, non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the US and around the world. In the last five years, GroundTruth has supported 150 reporting fellowships as far away as Myanmar, Egypt and Somalia and as close to home as Kentucky, Minnesota, and Montana. Our newest initiative 'Report for America' seeks to address a crisis in local journalism in America which has become a crisis for our democracy. By deploying RFA corps members into RFA host newsrooms for one year of public service reporting, RFA is trying to create a movement to restore trust in journalism and serve communities that need better coverage of the issues in their community. 
 

Why is Report for America 'national service'?

Why do we call Report for America “national service”?

Of course we think local journalism IS public service. That’s sort of the point of Report for America. But we also see this program as a synthesis between two different movements – the efforts to reform journalism, and the national service movement.

At our training for the 2018 corps at the Poynter Institute, I walked through some of the history of the service movement.

First, there’s a distinction between “volunteerism,” “public service jobs” and “national service.” Volunteering is crucially important and major part of America’s civic culture. Think of that as occasional and unpaid.  Then you have “public service jobs” – basically government jobs with a public-facing mission, like teachers, police and fire fighters.

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National service is something different. It generally refers to full-time, non-profit, lightly compensated efforts.  In each case, the programs have benefits to both the people doing the service – i.e. the servers – and the public.

The largest ever was the Civilian Conservation Corps under the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt started it during the Great Depression to help both the servers (by providing jobs) and the nation by cleaning up the nation’s parks.  There were 300,000 per year at one point. A total of 9 million went through the program.

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The goal was both to instill pride, confidence and appreciation of the outdoors – and to transform America’s forests and parks.  The corps members planted 3 billion trees and upgraded 800 parks.

The next major service program was the Peace Corps, started in 1961. This was cast by President Kennedy as both a call to idealism and a way to defeat the Soviet Union in the war for hearts and minds in the developing world.  So far 230,000 have been through the Peace Corps.

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In the 1980s and 1980s, a different type of national service approach emerged. These programs were created privately and locally. Responding to the sense that the federal government would not be addressing local problems, an amazing group of social entrepreneurs created programs like City Year, Teach for America, Delta Service Corps, Citizen Schools, and YouthBuild.

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These programs vary tremendously – some emphasize education, some housing, some education. Some, like City Year, aspire to create a way for people of different classes and races to work together on common civic projects. 

Then in 1993 AmeriCorps was created.  It was highly decentralized but with federal government money subsidizing both the corps members stipends and an education award to pay for college.  It currently has about 80,000 people serving n 21,000 locations. In total, more than a million people have served in AmeriCorps. They enabled some of those great local programs to expand. 

Often, existing volunteer programs like Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers ended up deploying large numbers of AmeriCorps members to lead their volunteers or tackle major projects. More recently, the Service Year Alliance has attempted to knit together private groups (including those not in AmeriCorps) to create and promote programs that let people have a “service year.”

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Report for America is the first major national service program for journalists.  We obviously hope that the corps members benefit tremendously – developing great skills, learning about a new community, and, frankly, having a life changing challenge.

But the benefits to the server are actually secondary to the benefits to the community. If the reporters aren’t doing great work – helping to transform local journalism – then the program wont succeed.  Just as the CCC wouldn’t have been so worthwhile if it hadn’t dramatically improved the nation’s parks, Report for America aspires to help strengthen communities through great local reporting.

Covering the West Virginia teacher strike — and coming home
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Report for America corps members write occasional essays about their experiences, curated by the GroundTruth Project. Here's the first one from Molly Born, the Report for America corps member at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

BY MOLLY BORN

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — The sea of striking teachers gathered in the Capitol here was dotted with red bandanas.

Teachers and their supporters knotted the bright kerchiefs around their necks, wore them as headbands or tied them on their wrists. This collective nod to labor history brought back pointed memories of the century-old unrest of the West Virginia mine wars when striking coal miners fought for better working conditions and considered the bandanas an essential part of their uniform.

After decades in which the labor movement dwindled, the strike signaled a potential resurgence of the union-based spirit that helped define this region.

The work stoppage that closed schools in all 55 counties for nine days began with educators in the state’s southern coalfields, where the mine wars played out – and where I have come to work as a Report for America corps member posted with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

That teachers here called for walkouts first surprised very few with roots in this area. I’m a native daughter of West Virginia with family who worked underground in the mines, but until recently, I knew little of the labor saga that had unfolded in the hills all around me and how it shaped the history of this place.

Andrew Thomas, a social studies teacher at Mullens Middle School in Wyoming County who was among those protesting at the Capitol, told me he didn’t miss the chance to bring history to the foreground. He taught his fifth-graders an entire lesson on the Battle of Blair Mountain, one of the largest labor uprisings in American history.

“Obviously the teacher strike can’t be comparable to that of the mine wars,” he said. “Many lives were lost during the early days of the mine wars. However, the hard work and dedication of both strikes were very similar.”

Teachers and school service personnel across West Virginia walked off the job in late February into early March, demanding better pay and a fix to their health insurance program. The action has inspired teachers in KentuckyOklahomaColorado and Arizona. Less than two months after setting up my base for West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Williamson, I first thought that I was putting my coverage of the southern coalfields on hold for a spell when I headed to the state capital to report on some of the most critical developments of this action.

At the Capitol, I weaved my way through the crowds of teachers and their supporters packing the hallway between the Senate and House of Delegates chambers. Educators in West Virginia are some of the lowest paid in the country, and among those chanting, holding 55 Strong signs or watching from the galleries were old high school classmates, family friends, my next-door neighbor from childhood. People I hadn’t seen or thought of in years were suddenly those whose stories I was covering.

I started my reporting on the seventh day of the strike. Union leaders said teachers wouldn’t go back without the five percent raise that Gov. Jim Justice had approved days earlier and the House had then passed. That proved to be the case when the Senate agreed on a four percent raise the next day. The chambers were at an impasse, prompting the creation of a special committee of lawmakers to come to an agreement. Then on Monday, the eighth day of the strike, teachers returned in record numbers, forming lines that stretched around the Capitol complex.

More than 5,000 visitors came through before authorities made the decision to close the entrances. I could hear the crowd roar several floors down. During one of my many trips darting between the basement pressroom and the legislative chambers, I finally stopped and looked out at the sea of people in front of me, marveling at their energy. We were bearing witness to something remarkable, no matter which side you were on.

On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate agreed to the raise the teachers were asking for, and after a “cooling off day,” classes resumed Thursday. Gov. Justice also ordered the creation of a task force to study long-term solutions to teachers’ health care program. Curious if and how educators would use this experience as a teachable moment, I visited Mullens Middle, where I met Andrew Thomas and his fifth-grade social studies class.

In an emotional lesson, Thomas, a self-identified fierce conservative who voted for Donald Trump, confessed to his students that he felt betrayed by the Republicans in the state Senate who held out on the teachers’ demands. He eagerly showed them a campaign video for state Sen. Richard Ojeda, a charismatic Democrat running for Congress who held court among teachers in the statehouse during the strike.

On a dry-erase board, near a laminated newspaper front-page about Donald Trump’s inauguration and a union poster, he’d written an equation in black marker: $32,000 X 5 percent = $1,600. It was his salary and the extra he’ll get now. Still, he told them, it’s far from enough to make up for living in one of poorest parts of the country.

One of the reasons I moved back to West Virginia was to tell nuanced stories of people the world seldom hears from and to learn more about a place that has shaped me – a place I had fiercely defended over the years, but one I had also disavowed, sometimes in the same breath. I’m not the first West Virginian to leave Pittsburgh in search of a greater understanding of what it means to be from this place (and a good yarn).

Chuck Kinder, a now-retired University of Pittsburgh professor, packed up his life in 1994 and moved home to live among his native mountain people. To colleagues mystified by his decision he quoted Flannery O’Connor. I think of these words often: “To know oneself is to know one’s region.”

 

Steven Waldman
Despite a sale and layoffs, West Virginia newspaper continues its tradition of ‘sustained outrage’
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Report for America corps members write occasional essays about their experiences, curated by the GroundTruth Project. Here's the first one from Caity  Coyne, the Report for America corps member at the Charleston Gazette-Mail

BY CAITY COYNE

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — This town’s daily newspaper, the Gazette-Mail, is housed in a classic 1920s building made of steel, brick and Indiana limestone. On the banks of the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston, the Gazette-Mail was formed in 2015 by the merger of two papers, the Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. The Gazette’s late owner, William E. “Ned” Chilton III, became famous for his motto “sustained outrage.”

For more than a century, the Gazette pursued a crusading spirit that, as the newspaper website proclaims, “was either feared, hated or loved by those it covered.” It took on big coal and corrupt politicians and it embodied the great spirit of American newspapers, right through to last year when the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for its series on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

The staff and its editors like to say it’s a “reporter-led” newsroom, and I loved the place the minute I first walked in as an intern. In December when I accepted a full-time reporting job there through Report for America, I felt like I landed the perfect first job in journalism. I was assigned to work in Appalachia and specifically in the southern coalfields of West Virginia, a region I’d grown to love over the last five years.

But just two weeks into the job, the Gazette-Mail filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Employees were immediately notified that layoffs could come in the next 60 days. The proposed buyer at the time held a reputation for paring down newsrooms, leading us to believe at least a few reporters and editors wouldn’t be there in two months.

Seeing a mentor go

A different buyer stepped up at the last minute, and the sale was finalized on April 1. Not everyone in our newsroom made it through the transition.

In the middle of the newsroom, our former executive editor Rob Byers’ desk sits bare. He was one of several people who weren’t brought on board for the paper’s next chapters. Old newspaper clippings still hang on the bulletin board behind his desk, one announcing reporter Eric Eyre’s Pulitzer, and another from when former coal baron Don Blankenship was put behind bars, just a few of the dozens of things he witnessed in his 25 years at the paper.

On his file cabinet there is a sticker from The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia University’s student newspaper, where he worked in college, as did I.

Rob also started at the Gazette as an intern, and worked his way through the ranks. He cleared his desk out late one evening, after the staff had gone.

The halls of the newsrooms that Rob departed tell the history of a newspaper industry on hard times. For decades, the Gazette and Daily Mail were competitors, across the hall from each other. Reporters for both still share stories about running into competitors in the narrow, yellow hallways when news would break, and rushing to be the first to get the story.

Now, the Daily Mail newsroom sits empty. Desks are dusty and stacked with files that haven’t been touched in years. Reporters who joined the consolidated paper moved to the Gazette side of the building. Others were laid off or left of their own accord. The whole building feels like it holds a history of a faded newspaper industry struggling to keep up in a digital age.

 Not a time to feel sorry for ourselves

The days after the bankruptcy — before we knew about layoffs or new management or anything of that sort — there was a hush in the newsroom, even if everyone was keeping busy.

As reporters made phone calls and conducted interviews — because everyone still had work to do — it was impossible to ignore condolences passed along from sources. Calls now had an added layer of “thank you for the kind words, yes we’re very upset too, no we aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” and so on.

“It really is like someone died,” one editor remarked.

For many, it seemed like wading through a personal loss. For me, who had only spent a few months in the newsroom compared to decades, it was a bit different.

In college, the Gazette and the Daily Mail both were inspirations of sorts. The papers were my introduction to local, accountability reporting. In the brief encounters I had with reporters who worked at the outlets, their dedication was tangible and their passion contagious.

When I started working there, I got to witness the other side of that. I was able to understand better why reporters here do the things they do, despite the frustrations, and the sometimes larger-than-life issues they’re tasked to cover.

These big things are a part of their lives. They live with the consequences of overwhelming situations just like their neighbors and friends do, and they get to see the forces working to better things in Appalachia, a region many others outside often like to use as a punching bag or the butt of a joke.

Speaking truth to some of the powers here is a responsibility that, at times, seems to swallow you. That’s why I wasn’t all that surprised by the resiliency of this newsroom when things got difficult — and they were difficult.

‘The whole building feels like it holds a history of a faded newspaper industry struggling to keep up in a digital age.’

News of the bankruptcy came in the middle of the West Virginia legislative session, and just as teachers from three of the state’s 55 counties participated in the first organized walkouts that would eventually culminate in a historic weeks-long strike for all the state’s teachers and school personnel.

It wasn’t a time to feel sorry for ourselves or worry about what we couldn’t control or didn’t know. What we did know was that news was happening, and it was our responsibility to cover it as diligently as we would have at any other time.

The state was flooded with national outlets looking for the “true story” of West Virginia’s struggling, working class, but in our newsroom we knew the story.

We know the people. And we know their struggle. We don’t have to look for it; we see it every day.

Around an already contentious legislative session and thousands of teachers flooding the city for days on end during the strike, the reporters were also thinking about the duration of their careers in Charleston. They knew they could be out of a job any day.

The funding from Report for America means I have this position for a year. As the most junior member of the staff, I felt lucky, but I was also concerned for my colleagues — particularly those with long histories at the paper.

Some of my colleagues were filling out applications and even interviewing for other jobs, but still, the paper marched on. Reporters continued, some working 12-hour days or longer. Editors stayed late to keep up with the stories. The work was persistent and crucial — making sense of situations that, at times, made little to none.

In the midst of all this, there was no phoning it in. There was no giving up on telling the stories of the people in this state. Ultimately, I believe, they are who we answer to, who we are responsible to, and to who we are committed.

The reporters here proved that by putting the needs of the people — the readers — before their own throughout all of this. The public good was always a priority, and I truly think — even if layoffs did come — those reporters would have still been up every day, talking to teachers and getting the out necessary information.

The reporters at the Gazette-Mail, including this one, will continue to keep up with their beats, meet their daily deadlines and report the news for the goodness of the people in West Virginia — as they’ve been doing. To put it simply, we will continue doing our jobs, because news in this state doesn’t stop, so neither will we.

 

Steven Waldman