The media today: Journalism as national service

CJR’s most recent print edition focused on local news, the backbone of an industry suffering from the steady shift of advertising dollars away from print, leaving newsrooms in crisis—bleeding staff, scaling back coverage, and grasping for solutions. A project announced yesterday at the Google News Lab Summit hopes to help address those concerns.

Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruthProject, Google, and others, plans to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms over the next five years. Writing in CJR, the project’s co-founders argue that America needs “a dramatically new approach at the local level—grounded less in the traditional commercial model and more on a reawakened spirit of public service among reporters.

Steven Waldman and Charles M. Sennott say that they want to model their initiative on organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, providing opportunities and support to emerging journalists while also helping newsrooms around the country do civically important reporting. Waldman first pitched the idea in the pages of CJR more than two years ago, calling for a new national service program dedicated to journalism.

Funding for the journalists who are chosen to participate in the project will come from a combination of Report for America’s coffers, local donors, and the newsrooms themselves. As the program begins placing reporters, it will be important to ensure that the journalists chosen represent a diverse cohort, both racially and socioeconomically, that underserved areas which may not have an active local donor base are not overlooked, and that young journalists who participate receive not just initial training but support throughout their employment. Sustainability will also be key; one of the chief criticisms of Teach for America is that too many of its teachers don’t stick around in their placement schools, creating disruption and wasting resources.

Report for America won’t save journalism, just as Teach For America can’t save teaching, and the Peace Corps hasn’t brought about an era of global unity. But in a time of crisis for local newsrooms, it’s a bold attempt to reinvigorate a vital organ of American society. Below, more on Report for America and the issues it is attempting to address.

 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.