Report for America, an experimental project supported by GroundTruth and Google News Lab, announced today the creation of a pilot program to recruit and install “top, emerging” journalists in “rural Appalachia.” First conceptualized in 2015 and billed as a “a new model for saving local journalism” that borrows from “national and community service programs,” Report for America is currently accepting applications for three positions with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and the Kentucky Herald-Leader respectively, with the latter announcing a complimentary plan to re-open a reporting bureau in Pikeville.
As a centralized national organization eventually supporting journalists across the country, Report for America will subsidize the cost of recruiting and training journalists with the expectation that these journalists commit to a period of service of at least two years (one year for the pilot program) in an under-served area. Local employment partners are responsible for kicking in a smaller percentage of the wage-subsidy as well as supervising daily assignments and contributing to the cultural literacy of a new generation of journalists.
Sponsors present Report for America as an antidote to parachute journalism, one that will give local newsrooms better control of regional coverage and in the process help restore “trust in journalism at a time when it is in deep crisis,” according to GroundTruth CEO Charles Sennott. It’s clear that there’s an urgent need to collapse the divide in local and national reporting on Appalachia. When the Columbia Journalism Review reported in July 2017 that not a single outside journalist attended the West Virginia-based New Story 2017 media conference despite persistent outreach, the snub surprised few here. I’m happy to acknowledge that Report for America has correctly diagnosed a problem, but the larger question is whether or not their planned solutions are as original and sustainable as presented.