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Report for America: Putting feet back on the streets for accountability journalism

NEW (June 16, 2015): Report for America proposal from Steve Waldman (research supported by the Ford Foundation).


(If you would like to join a discussion about this idea please contact me: Bll Densmore / / 617-448-6600


ORIGINALLY POSTED Jan. 16, 2009 to

A new National Writers Project -- for journalism

» Posted by wpdjr53 on 1/16/2009 6:47 PM

"The traditional business model for journalism -- pairing it with advertising -- is falling apart. This leaves fact-based, independent, watchdog journalism adrift, with less and less commercial support.  Public radio and some initiatives like ProPublica and are approaching the problem.

How about a national service corp, similar to the '30s era National Writers Project, which would select the best-and-brightest of America's college graduates for a year of service working for non-profit and for-profit news organizations to report on important civic issues? Their work would be "open source" -- made available publlcly on the web.  It could be sponsored and promoted by blogs, local online news organizations and traditional mainstream media outlets.  The work could be reviewed prior to publication by a non-partian panel of editors or citzens -- not to edit or censor, but to provide a concurring or dissenting opinion about the reporting against which reading/viewing public could make judgments about its trustworthiness. Look to NewsTrust.NET for an example of how journalism can be vetted and rated by the public.  See also the Representative Journalism project in Northfield, Minn."


Another take on the same vision -- from Josh Stearns at

Date: Mon, 2 Nov 2009 20:25:19 -0800
From: Josh Stearns <>
To: " Matters" <>
Subject: {JTM} Re: QUERY: Are there serious options for "subsidies" for the news?

Hi folks,The "Write for America" idea has been around the block for a while now. We described it in detail in our May report (which can be downloaded here: ) and Ken Doctor also blogged about a version of this a few weeks ago. As a former AmeriCorps member and a former lobbyist for national service legislation I know there are some challenges in the requirements for AmeriCorps funding that could lead to free speech issues for journalists - I am happy to go into more depth later for those who are interested.

Here are two ideas from our report - we outline many others in Saving the News: Towards a National Journalism Strategy -

Journalism Jobs Program

The final proposal for a short-term remedy to the journalism crisis is an attempt to support veteran, qualified reporters and simultaneously to engage young people in journalism. One of the biggest problems with the collapsing business model of print newspapers is the possibility that tens of thousands of highly trained and experienced reporters will dissipate into other sectors of the economy, and tens of thousands of talented young people will be dissuaded from becoming journalists in the first place.

 With the recent expansion of AmeriCorps^Y existing domestic service program, now would be an opportune moment to include journalistic activities as part of its mission. ^\The Serve America Act,^] which Congress approved in March, will dramatically increase service and paid volunteer jobs from 75,000 to 250,000 positions. The New York Times reports that full-time and part-time service volunteers would work for ^\new programs focused on special areas like strengthening schools, improving health care for low-income communities, boosting energy efficiency and cleaning up parks.^] The AmeriCorps expansion ^T which will cost approximately $6 billion over five years ^T also provides for a Social Innovation Fund to expand on proven initiatives while supplying seed funding for experimental programs. Volunteers would receive minimal living expenses and a modest educational stipend of $5,350 after their year of service. There are also special fellowships for people 55 and older, as well as summer positions for middle- and high-school students.

Building on Eric Klinenberg^Ys idea, a small percentage of these AmeriCorps jobs could go to journalism positions, fellowships, or even to journalism projects to report on the new initiatives being created through this act. These also could provide a much-needed service if combined with or subsumed under university media literacy programs. A promising model has been implemented recently by a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-backed initiative at Stony Brook University. The school has hired 50 laid-off journalists to undergo summer training with the goal of joining dozens of universities in the fall to teach ^\news literacy^] to non-journalism majors.

 A similar program could be established to hire journalists to teach media literacy and help launch journalistic endeavors at all levels of education.  The media literacy program could be expanded to include many more universities through the creation of formal Department of Education grants that might be leveraged using foundation support. 

There are other direct avenues for federal government programs to aid in job creation in this industry. The Department of Labor could design a program aimed at keeping reporters employed at existing news organizations or at new outlets. Such a job-creation program would stimulate the economy and offset unemployment payments that might otherwise go to out-of-work reporters. The structure and administration of such a program requires further study, but the basic cost-benefit analysis is promising. If the government were to subsidize 5,000 reporters at $50,000 per year, the cost would be $250 million annually, a relatively modest sum given the billions coming out of Washington. Drawing on Ed Baker^Ys ideas for subsidizing journalists and from the New Deal-era Federal Writers Project, this injection of resources would serve as a bridge to help keep reporters on the beat in local communities as the industry transitions to new business models and new media forms.

R & D Fund for Journalistic Innovation

^\The only solution I have to offer is pluralism itself,^] writes New York University Professor Jay Rosen about the future of news. ^\Many funders, many paths, many players, and many news systems with different ideas about how to practice journalism for public good (and how to pay for it, along with who participates).^]

 To create the necessary institutional pluralism, and to provide for a future of text-based media read on electronic devices with multiple revenue streams and multiple platforms, we need to think about the new media marketplace as an incubator for innovation. We propose the creation of a government-seeded innovation fund for journalism ^T a taxpayer-supported venture capital firm that invests in new business models. As a starting point, we are proposing a $50 million per year budget.

Such a fund is not without precedent. The Telecommunications Development Fund (TDF) was created by Section 714 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to focus investment in small businesses that produce important public goods in the communications sector that were ignored by for-profit venture capital.

 A private, non-governmental, venture capital firm, TDF was seeded with public funds and authorized to make investments with public service goals. TDF is governed by a board appointed by the FCC chairman. This model could be adopted for a journalism fund with provisions that the board would be made up of representatives from industry, academic institutions, and public interest groups. A firewall would be set up between the board and the journalism initiatives they fund. Clearly, such an initiative would require an act of Congress to establish, though it^Ys crucial that such legislation include provisions to shield the fund from any undue political influence. This new venture capital firm could be set up as a public-private partnership, with federal matching funds for foundation-supported projects.

Whereas many of the other strategies discussed here are aimed at transitioning legacy media into new sustainable forms, the new journalism fund should support forward-thinking endeavors that take advantage of new technologies. Resources should also be used to provide guaranteed loans to startup initiatives, such as Web-based community newsrooms and services, as well as projects that serve communities of color. The idea is to try to catalyze a wave of innovation in journalism 2.0 and to trigger market forces that will help move some of these nascent projects from concept to full-fledged operations.

Josh Stearns Free Press