What news organizations are eligible?
Any news organization that is committed to providing objective, civically-important local journalism. That could include: public radio stations, newspapers, digital native sites, commercial TV stations, community media centers, or journalism schools providing direct journalism. The organization can be non-profit or commercial.
What are the criteria for selection?
There are three main criteria:
1) Is there a need? (Are there under-covered topics, communities or geographic areas)
2) Do you have a good plan to deploy RFA corps members to do reporting on important topics?
3) Can you provide the match? (see below)
Other factors include having:
A good plan for distributing the content for maximum impact
A culture or history of mentoring, or a plan to do it well now
A good plan for assessing success
A commitment to trust-building behaviors (transparency of process, transparency of article types)
What are the deadlines?
The application window for news organization opens August 1, 2018 and closes October 31. Decisions will be announced around the first week of January.
Accepted newsrooms will interview corps member candidates in March. Their selected corps member will begin in their newsroom in June. Newsrooms will work with RFA to establish a plan for measuring impact and strategy for raising local money prior to the reporter beginning.
How much money do the host organizations put in?
RFA puts in half and the news organization and local funders together put in half. Typically, RFA would put in up to $20,000 (assuming at $40,000 total cost for reporter compensation), the news organization would put in $10,000 and local donors would put in $10,000. However, if the news organization wants to put in the full $20,000 instead of seeking local funders, we’re open to that. Local news organizations cover the health insurance, too.
What’s the salary?
Our model assumes a typical overall compensation of $40,000.
There are a few exceptions. In places where the starting salary is higher, the news organization can (but does not have to) provide the corps member the higher starting salary but the news organization would be responsible for covering the remaining cost. If the typical starting salary at a news organization is lower, the news organization can lower the amount and RFA will pay half.
Can we put in 50 percent of the money instead of 25 percent if we prefer?
Yes, though one of the goals of this program is to bring more local philanthropy in to support journalism. We also believe that successful news organizations will have to build stronger community support in general whether its through membership, subscriptions, events or philanthropy. So we do strongly encourage news organizations to involve the community to support the RFA corps member.
Can a local funder do the entire local share?
No, not usually. We think it’s important that the local news organization has “skin in the game.” However, if your news organization is particularly hard up and want to make the case that we should make an exception, let us know.
What say does the news organization have in choosing the corps members that will join their staff?
RFA will go through the large pool of talented applicants and choose three fantastic candidates to present to the local news organization. You pick from the three.
Can we have more than one RFA member?
Yes, absolutely. You just have to make the case that you’ll use the RFA corps member well and that you can provide the financial match.
How do you make sure that the local donor won’t affect the coverage?
As a way of providing insulation, the donation will go to Report for America rather than directly to the news organization. Also, we have strict editorial standards and will be clear up front with donors that they do not get to influence the reporter or the journalism. Finally, the reporter will be abiding by the standards of the local news organization.
Is this just for writers?
No. We will be creating a corps that includes videographers, radio journalists and data journalists as well as writers. But all of them have to write well and clearly.
Are there particular topics you prefer?
No. You know your community far better than we do. We leave it to the host organizations to decide what is most needed in the community. So that could be a general assignment reporter in a particular county or neighborhood that’s been neglected. Or it might be a beat reporter on a particular topic. Or it might be someone to help the I-team with a project.
Are the RFA members employees of the news organizations or of RFA?
They are employees of the local news organization. They get your benefits, operate under your standards, under your libel insurance policy, and are edited and managed by the local news organization.
What do you mean by "news desert"?
A serious, important gap in coverage. This can mean a topic or beat that has gone under-covered, or a community of people, or a geographic area.
Do we need to organize the corps member’s service project?
The service project is primarily the responsibility of the corps member but we hope news organizations will help with that.
Can I have a corps member for two years instead of one?
Yes. If both the corps member and the news organization request that there be a second year, we’ll make it a two-year term. However, in the second year, the match changes: RFA puts in one third and the local team (news organization + local funders) put in two thirds.
How do we assess success?
We don’t have a cookie-cutter set of metrics. Instead, we ask the host news organization to propose what metrics they will use to assess the success of the corps member — and then measure whether they’ve hit those targets. Typically, the news organization will need to establish some sort of before-and-after approach that can help demonstrate impact.
Is there a minimum audience size?
No, but we do want the RFA corps members to have impact. So preference will be given to organizations that show they have reach and impact. An exception might be: if the organization is small but has high penetration in its community.
Are advocacy journalism organizations eligible?
No, not right now. We’re quite aware that advocacy journalism organizations can do great work but for now, we’re sticking with straight up, objective, nitty-gritty reporting.
What if the reporter gets sued?
As an employee, the reporter would be covered exclusively by the libel insurance of the local news organization.
What kind of training will you provide?
Great training and mentoring is a hugely important part of our mission. The reporters will first attend an intensive training bootcamp. We will also offer ongoing training through the year.
Can a news organization terminate the corps member?
Yes. If the corps member is performing poorly, you can terminate them for cause (though we ask for a heads up about both emerging problems and your decision). The news organization will have to pay back the unspent part of the subsidy we have provided.
What happens if a Report for America corps member quits?
First we’d apologize, and try to figure out what went wrong. We really want that to almost never happen. But if it does, we’ll offer you the opportunity to host another carefully vetted reporter.
Where does the funding come from?
Report for America is funded by a variety of foundations and individuals. There are no partisan or ideological strings attached. All organizations or individuals that fund Report for America understand that this is to support non-partisan, non-ideological local reporting. Local funders also need to abide by the same guidelines. Of course funders will have various reasons for wanting to support journalism but they all are committing to our guidelines, which state that the donations will not affect coverage. The Report for America model also provides an extra level of insulation between funder and journalist. The financial support comes to Report for America, but the local editor is the one deciding the assignments for the reporter.