ProPublica is expanding its program supporting local investigative journalism with a new grant to fund reporters looking into state governments.
“The widespread decline in local journalism is particularly acute in state capitals and state bureaus,” Charles Ornstein, ProPublica senior editor, told Publishers Daily.
The new program is an expansion of ProPublica's Local Reporting Network, an initiative the nonprofit journalism organization introduced last fall to provide monetary support to investigative reporters at local news organizations.
With new funding from an anonymous donor, ProPublica is now introducing another two-year grant.
“We were overwhelmed last year with the number of applications,” Ornstein said. He oversees the Local Reporting Network.
ProPublica initially thought it would pick six reporters last year, but ended up choosing seven journalists from 239 applications in newsrooms across the country — from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to South Bend, Indiana. Coverages range from worker safety at nuclear facilities to failures in public housing.
The new program will have the same setup as the previous one.
ProPublica will pay the salary (and a benefits allowance) for one full-time investigative reporter at up to seven news organizations, in cities with populations below 1 million. The program will last one year. Another pool of reporters will be chosen for the second year of funding.
Reporters continue to report to their home newsroom, but also collaborate with a ProPublica editor and get access to data, research and engagement to investigate state governments.
Their work will be published by both their home newsroom and ProPublica.
Ornstein said they are looking for one reporter, based in Illinois, to complement the Chicago-headquartered newsroom ProPublica created last year to investigate wrongdoing across the state. One of those projects, a collaboration with the Chicago Tribune about the tax assessment system, was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.
The number of journalists covering state capitals has “dropped considerably” at a time when the federal government is “pushing additional responsibilities and obligations to state governments,” Ornstein said.
“The role of state governments is on the rise, and the decisions they make affect people across the state, but coverage is growing weaker,” he added.
Pew Research Center estimated a 35% drop in journalists working in state capital bureaus from 2003 to 2014.
Ornstein said the investigative reporting from this initiative — often called “accountability journalism” — does not have to focus on themes like corruption or pay-to-play. “We take an expansive idea of state governments and state politics. State governments can touch education, prisons and health care,” he said.
Applicat ions are due September 14. Reporters will begin working on proposed stories in January 2019.