The newsroom is dying, nobody reads anymore, and the whole nation is suffering from apocalypse fatigue/desensitization. But it’s not just an issue for the journalism industry. It’s also an issue for democracy itself. And so a nonprofit is stepping up.
An FKD Feature exclusive

If you go to the front page of Report For America’s website, you will see the slogan: “The crisis in journalism has become a crisis for our democracy.” Though it may sound dramatic, it might be less so than you’d think. After all, we live in a world that feels so inundated with bad news that we often completely tune out, and play, I don’t know, Angry Birds, instead. At least, many of us do. And we are not entirely blameworthy for doing this either. The world has become pretty depressing at times, after all. But even if we are not entirely to blame for our national character, something still has to be done. Apathy and democracy do not go hand-in-hand (or, at least, they should not go hand-in-hand), and this nonprofit — Report For America — has a plan to restore balance to the universe with the help of 1,000 young journalists

And maybe you are one! 

What is RFA trying to do?

In short, they want to repopulate newsrooms across the nation with young, idealistic and enthusiastic aspiring-journalists. No, you probably won’t be placed in The New York Times newsroom, as surely it is well-staffed, but you will be placed and transported to any newsroom around the country (provided they are short-staffed), which is an amazing way to get your foot in the journalism door. After all, when an industry needs something from us, it means we essentially are doing them a favor while doing ourselves and our aspirations one, too! Killing two birds with one stone!   

RFA hopes to “strengthen journalism, enrich communities, empower citizens and restore trust in media by developing and sustaining a new wave of journalists to serve local news organizations in under-covered corners of America.” This means a chance to be at the forefront of a newly emerging movement. Who hasn’t dreamed of being part of a revolution? Hello, Ernest Hemingway in Paris, Che Guevara in South America? (I know … two very different kinds of revolutions. But you get my point.)

So, how does it work?

Young, or simply emerging, journalists are picked by Report for America based on skill and their commitment to public service journalism. These RFA corps members begin their journey with intensive training and workshops to prepare them for the year ahead. The various news organizations then apply to host these chosen young or emerging, journalistically enthusiastic corps members in their newsrooms. Once trained, they are deployed to do critically important local reporting!

Here’s what RFA has to say

“Local coverage has been decimated. Residents no longer get the information they need to understand the critical issues facing their community, to make good decisions for their family, and hold elected officials accountable. We need a new model — one that calls an emerging generation of journalists to service, reporting in under-covered corners of America.”

The idea is to connect the spirit and idealism of an emerging generation of journalists with the local charisma and under-staffed nature of local newsrooms in interesting and underrepresented pockets of America.

A participant’s opinion, and talking salary

Molly Born, 29, works for RFA. In fact, she was one of the first few applicants to the organization. She grew up in West Virginia, and was a reporter at The Pittsburgh Post Gazette for six years. Born applied to Report for America because she wanted to report on her home state.

“I felt like I needed to give something back to a place that has given a lot to me,” she said. “And journalism is the way for me to do that.”

Born now lives in Williamson, a small town of about 3,000. Williamson is situated along the Tug Fork River. She gives a voice to the state’s southern coalfields as a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“It’s important to have reporters based in parts of America where some people feel misunderstood,” she said. “It just helps us get a greater understanding of who we are and who our neighbors are.”

Report for America fellowships last from one to two years, and the pay is about $40,000, with half covered by the program and the rest split between participating news organizations and donations. Two media veterans, Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott, started the project with funding from sponsors.

Takeaway

Although the positions have all been filled for the 2018 year, applications will be accepted bright and early in 2019, at which time a couple hundred positions will be made available. So mark it on your calendar for next year, or put an alert in your phone! If you’re interested in saving the world via journalism, you aren’t alone, according to co-founder Waldman:

“People are applying for the same reason that people want to go into the Peace Corps: There’s an idealistic desire to help communities, and there’s a sense of adventure,” Waldman said. “They want to try and save democracy. People keep saying that.”

 

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Posted 05.02.2018 - 12:00 pm EDT