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Taylor Johnston and Ellen Wagner make important decisions about the Post in the editors' office on the evening of Wednesday, February 5, 2020.

Editorial: Report for America’s pull from hedge-funds hurts local journalism

The “About Us” section of Report for America’s website is as well-intentioned and polished as they come. Report for America believes in saving the local press and contributes to this cause by placing reporters at local newsrooms nationwide and using money the organization has raised to help pay their salaries.

Report for America identifies a crisis in the collapse of local journalism which has “created a crisis for our democracy.” It identifies itself as a solution and emphasizes the need for journalism in all areas of the world. The organization generally does good work that helps reporters navigate a difficult industry and helps smaller papers with fewer resources thrive.

Report for America’s words lost their weight when it announced that it would be phasing out partnerships with hedge-fund owned publications, such as those owned by Gannett, which owns over 100 daily newspapers across 44 states, or McClatchy, which owns 29 daily newspapers across 14 states. The existence of these two companies alone allows for thousands of reporters at smaller local media to keep their livelihoods intact.

Journalists typically have a difficult relationship with these larger media companies. A media conglomerate’s takeover feels like being bought out, an admission that a publication is no longer self-sustaining enough to function independently. In many cases, they lay off staff unsparingly and have been tied to a decline in political engagement in the areas they serve.

What is more important than the ego of a paper, however, is its ability to serve its audience and employ journalists who have dedicated themselves to serving others. It is not the role of Report for America to pass judgment over smaller, local publications that have made the difficult decision to open up to a large media company as such a large organization when these local papers are struggling to even stay afloat. 

The pulling of funding almost seems performative, a statement on the rise in media conglomerates taking over that forgets that the only people being hurt from this decision are those who have little to do with these corporations besides relying on them to get paid.

The staff of local papers include the most dedicated and hard-working journalists you will find. Oftentimes, these staffs exist solely to inform underrepresented, underserved and under-reported-to communities. To write off these publications as simply selling out and thus being unworthy of being assigned reporters is to completely ignore the core purpose of journalism that Report for America so deeply prides itself in promoting: conserving democracy and providing accurate information to everyone in every corner.

The landscape of journalism is undoubtedly changing and there is no one this is more apparent to than the budding journalist, constantly told how the industry is dying and that they will never find jobs. Report for America’s role is to marry publications that need help with reporters who need jobs. To phase out newsrooms that have turned to companies like Gannett or McClatchy for assistance is to punish local and community newsrooms for trying to stay afloat in a landscape they have little control over.

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