Steve Waldman talks about Report for America and his quest to save local news

Steve Waldman

On this week’s “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Steve Waldman, the president and co-founder of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered communities. Steve came up with the concept in 2014 and joined forces with The Ground Truth Project to launch RFA in 2017.

In the projects we’re reporting on for this podcast and for our book, “What Works: The Future of Local News,” we’ve run across a number of RFA corps members. They usually have a couple of years of experience but are relatively new to the business, although there are a few near retirement age, too.

Steve has a deep background in magazine journalism. He was national editor of U.S. News & World Report and a national correspondent for Newsweek. He went on to co-found a multifaith religion website, Beliefnet.com, which won a National Magazine Award. He is also founder and coordinator of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, and he’s crafted some interesting proposals for how government can help revitalize local journalism while preserving editorial independence.

I’ve got a Quick Take on the happy conclusion to a bizarre situation involving a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Last fall, Josh Renaud reported that a flaw in a database maintained by the state of Missouri allowed for public access to thousands of Social Security numbers. Incredibly, the state’s governor, Mike Parson, denounced Renaud as a “hacker” and a criminal investigation was begun. It was absolutely outrageous, and now Renaud has been recognized with a national freedom-of-the-press award.

And Ellen takes it all back about Ogden Newspapers, which purchased The Aspen Times late last year but has supressed coverage and prompted a number of staff resignations.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

2 thoughts on “Steve Waldman talks about Report for America and his quest to save local news

  1. cynthiastead

    I am hoping he truly means COMMUNITIES and not affinity groups. Small town government can now operate in complete darkness, given the elimination of letters to the editor and local editorial content except once a week by a carnivorous chain That Must Be Obeyed.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Well, you’ll have to listen, won’t you? Report for America is indeed focused on geographic communities, although sometimes the corps members specialize once they get there. For instance, The Mendocino Voice has two RFA journalists, one covering environmental issues and one covering climate change. The New Haven Independent has one covering the neighboring city of Hamden. The Colorado Sun and Sahan Journal have Report for America photographers. I’d say in many respects the program is pretty old-school.

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