That should come as good news to Dan Fagin, the director of New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program, also known as SHERP. While he thinks Grantham has made a smart move, and that the prize money could be better used elsewhere, Fagin would prefer to see more direct support for actual journalism. “I’m all for more training, but I don’t think it’s our most critical need,” he said. “Our most critical need is more journalism.”
Pointing to the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Fund for Environmental Journalism, established in 2010, which gives twice-yearly awards of around to $1,000 to $3,000 to individual freelancers or staff writers, Fagin said he’d love to see the Grantham Foundation do something similar on a larger scale. [Update: According to SEJ’s executive director, Beth Parke, the foundation gave $25,000 to the fund in 2011.]
It’s hard to argue with that. Prizes and training are vitally important, but they’re not the industry’s biggest problems. For reporters to win awards and show off their skills, they need opportunities to work in the first place, and it’s those opportunities that are sorely lacking. Anything that be done to create them is the highest service to the profession. Beyond that, is training better than a prize? Most likely, yes.
As Weiss noted, there’s an unquantifiable value in a prize that’s so big, the mere possibility of winning is enough to make many reporters work harder. The question is: Where does that effect kick it in? It’s tempting to say that Grantham should have scaled back to a $25,000 award, for instance, and devoted the rest to training. But would that be enough of an incentive? Perhaps, but as Menezes suggested, it’s much easier to justify education programs on paper, and it’s not hard to understand why a foundation would prefer the direct, measurable impact of training.
“Journalism is a rapidly evolving industry right now,” Grantham’s Ravenel said. “So like the rest of the industry, we are experimenting, trying various approaches, all with the long-term goal of converging on those strategies that most efficiently advance our mission.”