Eliminate local 'news deserts'
Nearly 1,800 communities across the United States have no source of timely, relevant news about their local communities. Lack of local news coverage – often referred to as “news deserts” – has major impacts: greater political polarization, lower voter turnout, lower citizen engagement in government accountability, and less trust in news overall[1, 2].
Report for America, an initiative of the nonprofit news organization The GroundTruth Project, eliminates news deserts by matching qualified journalists with local newsrooms and developing more sustainable financing of local news, with a goal of having a watchdog reporter for every county in America.
“I’m tapped into this network of mentors and allies and people that I can also lend my experience to, in a way that I’ve never been before.”
– Jackie Botts, a Report for America corps member
What it does
Report for America holds two application processes: one for news organizations with urgent gaps in coverage and a plan to deploy Report for America corps members; and another for journalists who apply to serve these communities. The organization matches selected reporters with local newsrooms, kicking off the corps members’ 1-3 years of service as fulltime employees of these host organizations. Corps members are recruited to be more representative of the communities they serve than traditional newsrooms: more than 40% of corps members are journalists of color and more than half are women. In contrast, people of color make up 16.5% of newsroom employees, and women make up 39%, according to Report for America data.
In addition to selecting, matching, and training these reporters, Report for America works to transform how local news is financed. Report for America pays for half of a corps member’s salary and then supports the host news partner in securing local funders to contribute the other half. Report for America builds the fundraising capacity of partner newsrooms by offering training and toolkits to improve newsrooms’ strategies to secure local public support. It also establishes regional and local news endowments across the country so that editors and reporters can focus on civically important beats that have long been under-covered such as education, poverty, criminal justice, environment, and health.
How effective it is
Launched in 2017, Report for America has placed close to 600 reporters in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam in the past 3 years. It aims to place 2,500 local reporters in 750+ existing newsrooms nationwide.
Report for America estimates that each corps member writes over 400 stories a year that would otherwise be untold. One half of all corps members are working in communities and states that they call home, which is critical to quality reporting and long-term sustainability as these reporters often have a deeper commitment to the communities they serve. Report for America also points to qualitative evidence of their work’s impact. For example, Corps member Will Wright’s reporting for the Lexington Herald Leader held local government accountable for a broken water system affecting tens of thousands of people.
Report for America is working to get an additional 200 reporters in the field by 2024. The organization will launch a new track for mid-career reporters to help keep seasoned veterans in the field reporting on public service beats by 2023.
How you can help
Report for America’s efforts are 100% philanthropically funded, though the newsrooms it supports rely on a combination of subscriptions, advertising, and local philanthropy. More than half of Report for America’s budget goes to local reporters as salaries, with the rest going to training and editorial support, recruitment of reporters, programs to build newsroom capacity to fundraise locally, and core operations functions. Every dollar Report for America raises is matched by a dollar from local news organizations and local funders. Learn more at https://www.reportforamerica.org/.
More ways to help
For more on ways donors can support a healthy democracy, see our We the People guidance. To learn more from funders in the democracy and journalism space, see the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute.
 Barthel, M. et al. (2020, May 30). Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2016/11/03/civic-engagement-strongly-tied-to-local-news-habits/
 Capps, K. (2018, May 30). The Hidden Costs of Losing Your City’s Newspaper. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-30/when-local-newspapers-close-city-financing-costs-rise