Organization announces funding for 250 local journalists

Report for America says it will fund 250 journalists next year for work at local organizations in 46 states

An organization that is trying to bolster the struggling local news industry said Monday that it will help fund the hiring of 250 journalists across the country next year.

That's a sharp increase from the 61 journalists put in the field this year by Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Its first class of local reporters in 2018 numbered 13.

With the help of foundation funding, Report for America pays half the salary of these reporters for two years. Local news organizations kick in 25% and agree to raise the remainder from donations by local sources.

The growing support illustrates how people outside of the news industry are recognizing what is lost in communities when news organizations struggle. The University of North Carolina estimates that between 26,000 and 32,000 newsroom jobs have been lost across the country since 2004.

“These communities need to be heard from and we're really glad to be part of a process ... that is trying to confront the crisis in local news and restore journalism from the ground up," said Charles Sennott, co-founder of Report for America.

Studies show the collapse of local news coverage has contributed to polarization in society and less participation in government, he said.

These journalists include the 14 new reporters covering statehouses across the country for The Associated Press, which were announced last week.

Sixty-nine daily newspapers, 39 digital-only sites, 39 public radio stations, 12 local TV stations and five non-daily newspapers will add reporters. Among the participants are the Miami Herald, WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, Iowa Public Radio, the Brooklyn Eagle and Radio Bilingue in California. Reporters will be placed in 46 states.

Almost half of the new jobs are being added in nonprofit newsrooms, according to Report for America.

They're specifically being asked to cover a variety of "news deserts," including overlooked rural and urban communities, veterans’ issues, health care, the environment, health care and housing.

Report for America is committing $5 million to pay these reporters and is asking for others to help with training. A variety of funders are participating, including the Facebook Journalism Project, the Google News Initiative, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation. The linchpin is the Knight Foundation, which has provided $5 million in funding over five years.

After the initial seed money for these reporters, the goal is for the local organizations to take over after two years. Sennott said there's been some success with the initial wave. For example, of three reporters hired in 2018 for coverage in West Virginia, two will stay on and the third has gotten a job for a documentary maker in that state.

A majority of the other 10 initial reporters are expected to stay on, he said.