An appeal for public service journalism

Rachel Cramer, a GroundTruth fellow, pictured on Mt. Rose in Nevada. (Ben Brody/GroundTruth)

Truth matters. And it matters now more than ever.

At The GroundTruth Project, we are committed to inspiring and supporting a new generation of journalists to be on the ground where big stories are unfolding so they can unearth important truths in under-reported corners of the world — and right here in the United States.

We hope you will join us in this season of giving and support our mission to foster fair, in-depth journalism about social justice issues.

We need your help now when journalism seems to be under attack by authoritarian regimes, by corporate forces undermining our free press, and by a populist fervor that seeks to marginalize hard-hitting reporting by branding it as ‘elitist.’ And it’s not just journalists who are being targeted, sometimes it feels like the truth itself is right in the crosshairs.

Alex Potter works as a journalist and as a nurse. She is pictured here working as a nurse in the Middle East. (Photo by Zach Lowry. Courtesy of Alex Potter)
Alex Potter works as a journalist and as a nurse. She is pictured here working as a nurse in the Middle East. (Photo by Zach Lowry. Courtesy of Alex Potter)

At GroundTruth, we support 30 international reporting fellowships each year in places like Iraq, where we are honored to have just named our first winner of the James W. Foley Middle East Reporting Fellowship. The reporter is Alex Potter, a talented photographer and writer who also works as a nurse providing urgent care to communities under fire. We believe Alex has the same spirit and commitment to public service journalism and to bearing witness that our colleague and friend Jim had throughout his life before he was taken hostage in Syria and executed by ISIS in 2014. Jim was all about public service, serving two terms with Teach for America in Arizona and helping inmates in Chicago jails before he became a journalist.

James Foley Libya
Jim Foley reporting in Tripoli, Libya in August 2011. (Photo by Jonathan Pedneault)

We were thinking about Jim when we launched our biggest and boldest initiative to date, Report for America. Think ‘Teach for America’ for local reporting, or a kind of ‘Peace Corps’ for journalism. At a time of crisis in journalism, we are setting out to restore the public service role of local reporting, combining the best of national service programs with the training and mentoring strategies successfully deployed over the past five years by The GroundTruth Project.

Report for America’s first group of corps members will begin work in rural Appalachia next month, embedding in three newsrooms in West Virginia and Kentucky. These reporters will cover local news, hone their craft, and become the first members of a movement to inject the spirit of service back into journalism.

The response to Report for America so far has been extraordinary. More than 250 emerging journalists applied for our first three local slots. The reporters not only had great skills — often with several years of experience — but an inspiring sense of public service. They want to help the neglected communities — and help journalism regain the trust of the American public.

The work we do — from the dangerous warrens of Mosul, Iraq to the heart of coal country in West Virginia — is important and we can’t do it without your support. We’re off to a solid start with fundraising for Report for America, with support coming from the Google News Lab, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Knight Foundation.

But we need your help. Now that we have proven the concept, we need to raise the rest of the funds to fully realize our plans for our 2018 program — deploying 12 reporters around the country. The newsrooms are doing their part to secure their share of the cost of supporting a reporter for a year, and RFA must match them. We hope you will join us in this movement and offer your support in this season of giving. Our vision is admittedly audacious — a revitalized news industry populated with the next generation of highly skilled journalists who are reporting on the most important stories in our diverse communities and in our shared society. It’s also urgently needed.