Big Tech-Funded Program Covers Part of Salaries for Local Journalists


    from The Epoch Times:

    Local news publications nationwide are taking part in a program that allows them to hire journalists partially sponsored by a project funded by big tech behemoths like Meta, Google, and Microsoft.

    Report for America (RFA), an initiative of The Ground Truth Project, allows newsrooms nationwide to compete for assistance to fill coverage gaps. Once RFA selects a newsroom, they take responsibility to pay part of the writer’s salary while they work for the local publication and receive ongoing training from the Ground Truth Project initiative.

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    RFA pays 50 percent of the journalist’s salary, an additional 25 percent of the salary is paid by local donors and the remaining 25 percent is paid by the news organization employing the RFA corps member.

    Report For America’s list of donors helping to sponsor the writers includes the Meta Journalism project, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Knight Foundation, Google News Initiative, Microsoft, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    According to the RFA website after approving a publication to receive an RFA corps member, the group pre-screens “emerging journalists” who might meet the news organization’s requests and pay up to $25,000 for the journalist’s salary before passing the process off to the publication’s leadership: “You make the final reporter selection. And they work for you while receiving ongoing training and support from us.”

    As part of further explanation regarding the input journalists stationed around the country will receive from RFA, the group explained to prospective writers that, “At the start of the program, you’ll spend time learning from expert journalists and other trainers about your beat, specific skills to know, and more. Ongoing training throughout the year will build on that. You’ll also have the opportunity to be paired with a mentor who will give you personal, ongoing guidance.”

    RFA continues training the journalists while in the field, with their website stating that the ongoing mentorship is “a hugely important part of our mission.”

    “Corps members receive intensive training to prepare them for the year ahead by world-class editors, technologists, academics and other supporters of the future of journalism, plus continued support and mentoring throughout their term of service,” RFA states.

    RFA’s compilation of 2023–2024 open newsrooms listed 56 open positions, including nine in Texas, three in Michigan, three in North Carolina, and two in Florida.

    The Epoch Times reached out to several of the newsrooms listed on RFA’s list of upcoming partners with several questions about how they expect RFA to impact their coverage. Questions included the issue of what the selection process was like, whether RFA will have input on day-to-day coverage or editorial duties, and whether funding from RFA was subject to ongoing standards and practices.

    RFA’s Interim Vice President of Communications, Sam Kille, responded to the inquiry sent to the newsrooms, assuring The Epoch Times that safeguards were in place to subvert any undue influence on the journalistic practices of local publications.

    “We are clear with the donors who support Report for America as a national organization that their support will not affect coverage,” Kille said. “And beyond that firewall, there’s a practical safeguard: the reporters are employees of the newsrooms, not Report for America. Editorial decisions are made by local editors, two steps removed from donors. As for donors to the local newsroom, we ask our partners to approach that in the same spirit that newspapers (mostly) did with advertisers: making it clear that the support doesn’t buy coverage. Our newsroom partners embrace that same ethos that we do.”

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