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McClatchy to decline future Report for America participation, following hedge-fund critiques

November 5, 2021

In June, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Steven Waldman—the president and co-founder of Report for America (RFA), the journalism organization that pairs early-career journalists with news outlets that have identified critical gaps in their own coverage—titled “How to stop hedge funds from wrecking local news.” In the op-ed, Waldman writes that such investors, which own “half of the daily newspaper circulation in America,” have “a track record of cutting the reporting staff of local newsrooms to increase profits”; he also suggests policy proposals, including “improving antitrust enforcement,” to “confront” the damages done to local journalism by hedge funds, “head on.” Waldman has written and spoken critically about the perils of hedge-fund ownership on numerous occasions, even as Report for America has placed journalists in newsrooms owned by hedge funds. Now, it seems that one such news organization may have taken issue with those critiques.

McClatchy—which owns dozens of newspapers across fourteen states, and which was acquired by Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund, last year—will not participate in the next Report for America cycle, Report for America confirmed to CJR. Sources tell CJR that McClatchy’s decision came in response to Waldman’s hedge-fund criticism. Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s senior vice president of news, would not confirm the company’s plans, and did not respond to questions concerning the company’s reaction to Waldman’s hedge-fund critiques. In an email to CJR, Roberts wrote, “Part of the rationale behind our partnership with RFA was extending coverage. We have shown that we can and should and these beats are now shifting into the core.” 

Currently, thirty-one Report for America journalists work across twenty-one McClatchy newsrooms; their designated areas of coverage include housing, local government, climate change, COVID-19, gun violence, and communities of color. Reporters that spoke with CJR said there was no formal announcement from McClatchy of the company’s decision; several learned of it through conversations with editors.The deadline for Report for America host newsrooms to apply for new corps members was September 30; the deadline for participating newsrooms to renew their current corps members for a second or third year is November 15.

Report for America corps members typically serve two years in a partnering news outlet. Journalists and news outlets apply separately; those that are selected for participation in the program are then matched by Report for America. During the first year, Report for America commits to paying half the salary of each journalist, and to helping each news outlet fundraise to cover an additional twenty-five percent, leaving the remaining portion to the news outlet itself. Report for America’s contribution decreases in the second year. Report for America confirmed to CJR that current corps members at McClatchy papers are expected to complete the duration of their terms. 

Still, the decision by McClatchy raises questions about how the company’s news outlets might meet their evolving coverage and staffing needs once its relationship with Report for America concludes. Christina Lords, former editor of the McClatchy-owned Idaho Statesman, says the paper acquired an education reporter through its involvement with Report for America; the position, she said, had previously been vacant for four years. “We were trying to figure out how do we pay people a livable wage for their work to cover our communities,” Lords said. “One of the ways to do that was through Report for America.” (In January, the Washington Post reported that Lords was fired by McClatchy after tweeting about her inability to provide a reporter with Microsoft Excel. She is now the editor in chief of the Idaho Capital Sun, a nonprofit.)

Waldman told CJR he would welcome McClatchy’s future participation in Report for America. “The McClatchy partnership has been fantastic, and some of our best reporting has been done in McClatchy newsrooms,” he said. However, he said the company’s response would not deter him from speaking about hedge funds. 

“Our mission is to strengthen local news,” Waldman told CJR. “There’s no avoiding the destructive effect some hedge funds have had on local communities, and it would be irresponsible for me to censor myself.”

This post has been updated to clarify Report for America’s application deadlines.

Feven Merid is CJR’s staff writer and Senior Delacorte Fellow.