Report for America has become a local enterprise, as the nonprofit organization announced that Mountain Times Publications had successfully applied for a RFA reporter to join the newsgroup in June 2021.
Since its inception in 2017, Report for America has placed hundreds of experienced and emerging journalists into local newsrooms across the United States for a one- to two-year-long tenure to report on under-covered issues and communities. Costs associated with the position are shared between RFA, the newsroom and community donors.
Requests for a RFA reporter are highly competitive, and newspapers typically submit an application several months in advance of being selected. This year, Mountain Times Publications’s five-newspaper group joins publications such as the Associated Press, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Houston Chronicle and, in North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and Carolina Public Press, in addition to more than 150 other newsrooms across the nation in submitting a successful application and interview process.
“I’m proud of the leadership and effort Tom (Mayer, executive editor of Mountain Times Publications) and his staff put into this process to be competitive. I’m even more proud of them in that they were selected as the cream of the crop in securing this prestigious honor,” said Gene Fowler, group publisher of Mountain Times Publications.
In the 2021-22 year, RFA will place more than 300 journalists into needed positions.
“In the High Country, that need translates into reporting on environmental issues,” said Mayer. “From agricultural concerns to tainted water from ore mining, there are real issues in our communities that need to be explored and reported upon. Bringing in an experienced reporter dedicated to covering these areas in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties will help shed light on several underreported areas of our communities.”
The RFA reporter selected for MTP’s newspaper group — the Watauga Democrat, the Ashe Post & Times, The Avery-Journal, The Blowing Rocket and Mountain Times — will be based in Boone, but will cover all areas of the High Country.
“We’re thrilled to begin the process of obtaining a journalist through Report For America to temporarily join our staff at Mountain Times Publications,” said Kayla Lasure, editor of the Watauga Democrat. “This opportunity will enhance the quality journalism our network of newspapers already brings to the High Country by providing a more narrow focus on environmental reporting. The area will truly benefit from having detailed reporting with the help of an additional journalist on local environmental quality — a topic that’s so dear to many here in the mountains.”
Speaking about the success that RFA reporters have had on reporting for local newsrooms, Avery Journal-Times editor Jamie Shell agreed with Lasure.
“Report For America has emerged as a leader in providing well-researched and reported content on issues that affect the everyday lives of citizens from every walk of life and from a wide array of socioeconomic, ethnic and environmental backgrounds,” Shell said. “This initiative is at the forefront of providing journalists with professional opportunities to expand their horizons and report out of the wellspring of their own research and knowledge of significant issues affecting readers. This opportunity is truly exciting for Mountain Times Publications in that is affords our newspapers the unique position of informing our readers with quality content on these issues at a hyperlocal level.”
RFA is an initiative of the nonprofit media organization The GroundTruth Project that was launched to combat the dramatic decreasing number of journalists — from 455,000 in 1990 to 183,200 in 2018 — in local newsrooms. The program shares the salary of its reporters between RFA and the selected newsrooms, with the nonprofit providing 50 percent, the newsroom 25 percent and local donors the additional 25 percent. To maintain credibility, donors provide funding directly to RFA, not the newsroom.
The aim of the partnership is to “harness the skills and idealism of an emerging group of journalists plus the creative spirit of local news organizations,” according to RFA.
“With the local news system shrinking, it’s important that we both put more and more reporters in the field — and that we help newsrooms that are working toward becoming more sustainable, and more grounded in the community,” said Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America. “It’s particularly gratifying that newsrooms have, en masse, decided that they want to do better coverage of communities of color and rural areas.”
In 2021, RFA will continue its successful expansion. The nonprofit positioned 59 journalists in newsrooms in 2019 and 226 in 2020. The organization aims to have 1,000 reporters in newsrooms by 2024. Visit reportforamerica.org for more information.