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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor
Lots of developments this week in the realms of sustainability, security, recovery and trust. First, on the news about McClatchy and Report for America:
You’ve probably heard that McClatchy, which owns The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer in Raleigh and The Herald-Sun in Durham, will not participate in the next round of the Report for America program. Feven Merid reported that news last week in Columbia Journalism Review, adding that newsrooms’ application deadline for the 2022-23 cycle has now expired.
RFA places early-career journalists in newsrooms to help fill critical coverage gaps and pays part of their salaries — half in the first year, and less in the second. The newsrooms, with RFA help, raise what they can of the rest of the cost, and sometimes must pay the balance out of their budgets.
There has been a little confusion about what McClatchy’s decision means. The reasons also may be a little more nuanced than RFA President Steven Waldman’s public opposition to hedge fund ownership of news companies. The CJR story, citing unidentified sources, said McClatchy’s decision was in response to Waldman’s criticism of hedge funds. (McClatchy has been owned since last summer by Chatham Asset Management.)
Much of Waldman’s criticism — that hedge funds cut newsrooms’ reporting staffs to increase profits — is unquestionably valid. But McClatchy’s North Carolina newsrooms have been an exception lately — The N&O/Herald-Sun and The Observer are adding reporters and editors.
Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s senior vice president of news, wouldn’t confirm McClatchy’s RFA plans to Merid. I reached out to Roberts and got this response from Susan Firey, McClatchy senior communications specialist:
“We are not ending our partnership. We have a large number of RFA fellows — they are valued colleagues whose work matters a great deal and we are fully committed to them and their roles. Today, we are in the excellent position of hiring in long-term permanent roles and are focused on adding full time permanent reporting positions across the company. Part of the rationale behind our partnership with RFA was extending coverage. We have shown that we can and should and these beats are now shifting into the core. All of that speaks to the amazing success of the partnership over some years.”
All of which means that the current RFA fellows in McClatchy newsrooms will complete their two-year tours. For those in their first year, that basically means another year and a half.
N&O/Herald-Sun Managing Editor Sharif Durhams echoed that point in a Twitter thread, adding that “when (RFA) reporters get toward the end of the program, we’re looking to hire them like we normally would.” Adam Wagner, who did a two-year stint at The N&O as a member of the Report for America corps, stayed at The N&O and is now working a full-time climate reporting beat, supported by 1Earth Fund in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. For-profit and nonprofit news outlets have been diversifying their funding sources for some time, and working with a variety of organizations to do so.
Waldman told CJR that he would welcome future participation by McClatchy, but suggested he would continue to speak out against hedge fund ownership. Firey did not respond when I asked in an email whether McClatchy might continue any kind of future partnership with RFA. I reached out to Report for America’s press office by email for comment on Monday, but I’ve received no reply.
➵ Disclosure: I was on the news staff of The News & Observer for more than three decades, ending in February 2019.
More on funding for news
◼️ McClatchy is testing pre-roll and mid-roll ads on the audio versions of stories in certain sections, Digiday reports.
◼️ These news orgs are building beats from reader donations. By Stephanie Castellano, API.
◼️ For-profit newsrooms are adding philanthropy as another way to make money. By Kristen Hare, Poynter.