The first three corps members with Report for America, a new initiative of The GroundTruth Project, are starting work in their newsrooms after wrapping up six days of training and orientation with GroundTruth and partner organizations in Appalachia.
The three reporters will be focusing their coverage in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, serving communities in under-covered corners of the region for three distinguished news organizaitons. Molly Born is based in Williamson, West Virginia, for West Virginia Public Broadcasting; Caity Coyne is based at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia; and Will Wright is based in Pikeville, Kentucky, for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Report for America will support these reporters in their host newsrooms for one year.
All three reporters have a connection to the region.
Born is a native of West Virginia, and after working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pennsylvania for a number of years, felt called back to her community. She sees journalism as her way of giving back.
“Journalism is a public service because we bear witness,” said Born, who is the only person based in Mingo County for WVPB. “We hold accountable officials and government, we tell stories that might not otherwise be told, and we allow people to discover shared humanity along the way.”
For Coyne, a San Diego native, West Virginia is her adopted home, after four years at West Virginia University, where she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Daily Athenaeum. For her, Report for America is an opportunity to represent the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Mingo County in a more holistic way.
“Appalachia is rich with stories, there’s a lot going on here,” said Coyne, who interned at the newspaper where she will now be working full-time. “It’s a bubble that other people don’t get to see into a lot, and when they do get to see into it, it’s through the lens of someone that’s not from here, someone that doesn’t have the experiences of being an Appalachian.”
And for Wright, who grew up in nearby Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, went to the University of Kentucky and interned at the Lexington Herald-Leader, becoming a fulltime reporter for the Herald-Leader’s new Pikeville bureau is a chance to do more accountability reporting on the government and environment.
“Report for America is an opportunity to make journalism that gives back to a community, that has a real impact in the lives of people that live near you, and in a region, in this case, that has been under-reported,” Wright said.
The orientation took the three corps members through the regions where they will be reporting, including stops at AppalShop, the Center for Rural Strategies and the Hatfield and McCoy feud site. At West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media, the corps members came together with their new editors and The GroundTruth Project to go over standards and best practices, organizational support and the public service component of Report for America.
Among the training workshops: Google News Lab led a session on using products like Google Public Data Explorer, Google Scholar and Google Trends for reporting and story visualizations. The Solutions Journalism Network led a training on its methodology for reporting on responses to problems, in addition to the problems themselves. And the City University of New York (CUNY) led sessions on social journalism (with Carrie Brown) and fiscal reporting (with Greg David).
The orientation and training wrapped up on Tuesday night with an event at WVU’s Media Innovation Center. Report for America co-founder Charles Sennott moderated a panel discussion with Dana Coester of 100 Days in Appalachia, Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Roxy Todd of Inside Appalachia.
In his opening remarks at the event, Robert J. Byers, executive editor of the Charleston Gazette-Mail shared the story of getting the phone call from Sennott that led to his newspaper becoming one of the first three host newsrooms for Report for America.
“It’s a really exciting thing for the Gazette-Mail, for the other two news agencies as well, and I’m really looking forward to what we can accomplish in the coming year and what we can accomplish in years after that,” he said.
Report for America is a partnership between The GroundTruth Project and Google News Lab with additional support from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Knight Foundation, Galloway Family Foundation, Center for Investigative Reporting, Solutions Journalism Network and other leading organizations focused on the future of journalism.
Report for America (RFA) is a call to service at a time of crisis for the profession. Co-founded by GroundTruth executive director Charles Sennott and veteran journalist and social entrepreneur Steven Waldman, RFA is rooted in the best practices of public service and offers an innovative model that strengthens America’s free press. RFA will pilot reporting corps positions across the country starting in early 2018 at news organizations that serve under-covered areas. For more information, visit reportforamerica.org.