During this year of layoffs and furloughs, four Washington newsrooms will add staff through Report for America. The national service program plugs journalists into local newsrooms to reinforce the free press system.
Founded by veteran foreign correspondent Charlie Sennott and entrepreneur and former magazine journalist Steven Waldman, Report for America (RFA) collects donations and grants and recruits entry-level journalists to work in local newsrooms. Newsrooms apply for help, supply matching funds and RFA matches its recruits to places where the journalist can focus on issues and communities that might otherwise get scant attention.
Here in Washington:
Ian Davis-Leonard will write about housing, health care and other working-class issues for the The Herald of Everett. He’s an Everett native, a graduate of Gonzaga University in Spokane and was a newsroom intern for The Herald last summer.
Abbie Shull will write about Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the Tacoma News Tribune. Shull received her Bachelor of Arts from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University. She has written for several newspapers in Louisiana and covered that state’s legislature for her college news bureau.
Brandon Block will write about homelessness for The Olympian, which continues to raise money to cover the cost. Block is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University who spent the last year on a fellowship in Thailand. He has written about crime, immigration and the environment for a variety of outlets in Baltimore.
Arielle Dreher is in her second year writing about public health as a Report for America reporter at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Azusa Pacific University and her Master of Arts from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
As the economic prospects of local newsrooms have dimmed, there has been a growing movement to save local journalism. Demand for RFA’s journalists has boomed, as has its fund-raising, allowing it to select 225 journalists for the 2020 reporting corps, placing them at 162 organizations in 45 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
As reader demand for local news has skyrocketed during the novel coronavirus pandemic, even as revenues to news organizations collapse, the leaders of RFA say their project has even greater meaning.
“It’s now crystal clear that the need for trustworthy, accurate, and local information can be a matter of life and death,” said Waldman, RFA co-founder and president, in a news release. “This surge of reporters should help meet this moment.”