Amidst all the negative media news, Tuesday NPR had an exciting update to share this week. They received a $4.7 million grant from Eric and Wendy Schmidt for the Collaborative Journalism Network. The idea behind the Collaborative Journalism Network is to create regional newsrooms to coordinate and expand local and regional reporting, provide deeper coverage on topics like government accountability, criminal justice and healthcare, among others. The newsrooms will also create content for national news shows and digital platforms. The first two newsrooms will be in California and the Midwest.
Led by managing editor Joanne Griffin, the California newsroom will serve all 17 public radio stations, who broadcast in 50 cities, to increase coverage of statewide issues and reporting from and for underserved regions across the state. The second newsroom will be in the Midwest and serve 25 public radio stations and 63 cities in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. Additional regional newsrooms are being planned for the Gulf States and Texas.
“Now more than ever, we depend on high-quality journalism for timely and critical information,” said Wendy Schmidt in a May 19 news release. “Local news is especially important, and with so many newsrooms in decline, we need to invest in strengthening reporting resources from trusted sources like public radio. These regional news hubs will not only increase local reporting of critical issues, they will also elevate diverse voices and perspectives in regional and national stories.”
According to NPR, 95% of Americans live within range of a public radio signal, and their network employs 1,800 journalists at more than 200 member stations in the U.S., plus 400 reporters and editors at NPR.
“The opportunity now is to reach new audiences and dig deeper into the issues of the day – at the local, regional and national levels. We are doing this by collaborating more closely inside the public radio network. We are building partnerships among groups of stations, in close coordination with NPR, to strengthen their local and regional impact and help bring more of their reporting to a national audience. We’re planning coverage together, sharing technology that improves efficiency and honing best practices for engaging, insightful reporting,” said NPR of its Collaborative News Network.
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Nancy Barnes, senior vice president for news and editorial director, commented on the $4.7 million grant.
“This generous gift will allow the Midwest and California regional newsrooms to focus on investigative reporting, which is so essential to an informed citizenry and democracy. It’s also the type of journalism that has been eroding at the local level as newspapers scale back,” said Barnes. “To address this challenge, these newsrooms will hire small teams of investigative journalists who will work with station reporters on public service investigations—stories that expose corruption, reveal health hazards and bring to light other information that the public has a right to know.”
Now philanthropists, Eric Schmidt is a former CEO of Google, and his wife Wendy worked in marketing communications in Silicon Valley before starting an interior design business. Wendy now leads The Schmidt Family Foundation which the couple started in 2006.
Not all the news is good though. A few weeks ago, we reported that NPR is expecting a budget shortfall of $30 million to $45 million through its 2021 fiscal year. Companies can no longer afford sponsorship, and donors are reevaluating their financial priorities which has reduced donations. NPR gets about one-third of its revenue from corporate sponsorships, so this is brutal. The company is evaluating its options to figure out to remain sustainable during the COVID-19 crisis. One of the first steps they’ve taken is to impose pay cuts of 10% and 15% on NPR executives. NPR chief executive John Lansing has taken a 25% pay cut.
This is a very generous grant from the Schmidts which will help improve local and regional coverage in areas where NPR is creating regional newsrooms. We love the concept and the creativity, especially as rural areas become news deserts while the need for credible news, information and resources is more important than ever. NPR is taking a cooperative, collaborative approach which is refreshing. We will report updates on the project as we learn more.