In an effort to support more real news and increase public trust in the news media, Google News Lab, in partnership with The GroundTruth Project, is launching Report for America (RFA), a nationwide initiative that will send young journalists into the country’s local newsrooms for a year of training and support.
The program, which will operate with support from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Knight Foundation, Galloway Family Foundation, Center for Investigative Reporting, Solutions Journalism Network and other leading organizations focused on the future of journalism, will match aspiring young journalists with local newsrooms in need of reporters, similar to the Teach for America project.
“Right now there are twin crises in American journalism: a crisis of the pocketbook and a crisis of the soul,” says Steven Waldman, co-founder of RFA. “We have to urgently address both and try dramatic new approaches. The pocketbook problem is the collapse of the local news business model, which has led to decimation of local newsroom. So communities are starved of the information they need, and accountability reporting to make powerful institutions work for them. The spiritual crisis relates to both the public’s declining trust in the media and the soul-crushing aspects of many reporting jobs. We felt that reawakening the spirit of public service — and giving journalists the opportunity to be their best selves — would help communities and help restore some trust in the news profession.”
“At a time of deep divisions in America, this is really a patriotic call to service, an invitation to a new generation to go and live and report in local communities in rural Appalachia, or the border towns of Texas or in faded industrial towns of the Midwest, or to any community where stories that enlighten and inform need to be told,” says Charles Sennott, co-founder of RFA and founder and CEO of The GroundTruth Project.
Report for America will be open to anyone who has the passion and drive to be a local news reporter, and selection will not be done based on age or previous journalism experience. The program seeks to encourage anyone with the skills and desire to have an impact on local journalism to apply, and the selection committee will choose those it believes can have a positive impact on local communities and on local news.
“It’s going to be rigorous and properly pretty tough to get in. There are two selection processes — one for would-be Report for America Corps Members and one for the news organizations that want to host them,” Waldman says. “The reporters will need to persuade us that they have both the skills and character — a commitment to public service — to have an impact quickly. If they’re not doing good work, nothing else will matter. The news organizations will have to prove that they’re going to use this person well, to really provide civically important reporting.”
The first reporters are expected to begin working in early 2018, and the project aims to add more than 1,000 local journalists to the media environment over the next five years. To do this, the program will provide 50 percent of the funding to cover each journalist, while the news organizations will provide 25 percent and local donors will provide the final 25 percent of the cost.
To add to the value the RFA Corps members provide, each reporter will not only be reporting on the local community, but will be providing other community services, such as working with local high schools on the student newspaper or website.
“We’re hoping in the first year that we’ll have pilot programs that show how these RFA folks can have a tremendous impact — and also that there’s support for this idea in the communities,” Waldman says. “For this to work, communities are going to have to want good local journalism.
“People for a long time figured that the commercial model would figure out a way of repairing the problems of local news. So the nonprofit sector and local donors didn’t see a particular need to step in,” Waldman continues. “Now it’s clear that the local news market is broken and the commercial model by itself is not going to fix it. So we need to think in a dramatically different way.”
Those interested in participating in Report for America, either as reporters or as host newsrooms, can contact the organization here.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.