I applaud PAW for celebrating Princeton alumni still pursuing local watchdog journalism and reimagining the news business in the digital age. I want to highlight another way Princetonians are helping, and can help in the future, to reverse this decline: a groundbreaking new initiative called Report for America, which places emerging journalists in news outlets across the U.S. to report on under-covered issues in under-resourced communities.
The decline of local, public-accountability journalism is an urgent crisis for our democracy and the health of our communities. It is the reason citizens may not know they are drinking dirty water, which schools are failing our children, what local candidates stand for, the risk of disease outbreaks, or where disaster-relief funds really go.
Report for America, now in its third year, will field 250 reporters across the U.S. in 2020 at newspaper, radio, digital, and TV outlets. We are ramping up to 1,000 reporters by 2024. We treat local journalism as a public service and we raise national and local philanthropy to assist media outlets that can no longer afford labor-intensive, public-service journalism as ad dollars decline. The response has been tremendous: 15 journalists applied for every spot we funded last year.
I urge Princeton students to consider public service in journalism much as they’ve embraced Teach for America, Americorps, and the Peace Corps, and I challenge Princeton alumni to support local news-gathering.
Editor’s note: The author, a former reporter at The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald, serves on the governing board of Report for America’s parent organization, the GroundTruth Project.