ProPublica is once again expanding its Local Reporting Network, part of its growing effort to help local journalists pursue meaningful accountability stories in their communities.
We are now accepting applications for six more news organizations to do investigative projects as part of our network. The group will begin work on July 1 and continue for a year.
With support from a new grant, we will pay the salary (up to $75,000), plus an allowance for benefits, for full-time reporters. Applications are due April 26, and selected reporters will begin work on July 1. (We’re also posting jobs for a senior editor, production designer, news applications developer, engagement reporter and research fellow to work on our staff with these reporters.)
ProPublica’s first group of seven local reporters produced a strong body of work last year, exposing lapses in worker safety at nuclear facilities, failures in public housing, the devastating toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on first responders and stunning miscarriages of justice in Indiana, among others.
So far this year, we are working with 14 new projects — half involving state government, the rest on issues of local importance. This further expansion will bring the total of newsrooms and projects for 2019 to 20.
If your organization is selected, the reporter will continue to work in your newsroom, but they will receive extensive guidance and support from ProPublica. Their work will be published or broadcast by your newsroom and simultaneously by ProPublica.
National news organizations are not eligible to apply; all other newsrooms are, regardless of size or medium. It can be a small newspaper, website, radio or TV station, or anything else that reaches your community. We are not looking to fund day-to-day beat coverage, but instead to enable your organization to do ambitious accountability projects that would not otherwise be done.
Applications should be submitted by newsroom leaders for a particular project and a specific reporter. If you lead a newsroom and are interested in working with us, we’d like to hear from you about:
- An investigative project. The proposed coverage can take any number of forms: a few long stories, an ongoing series of shorter stories, text, radio, video or more. Please tell us why this coverage is important, any similar coverage that has been done before it, why this project has particular urgency now and a plan for executing the work. Please also explain why your community and your newsroom are the right places to tell this particular story.
- The reporter who you ideally envision spearheading the work, and the market salary you would need to pay them for the year. This could be someone already on staff or someone else — for example, a freelancer with whom you aspire to work. Please include a personal statement by the reporter explaining his or her interest, at least three clips of their prior best work and, of course, a resume.
The deadline for applications is April 26. Please submit your proposal using this form. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, email us at Local.Reporting@propublica.org. ProPublica reporters and editors are open to give you feedback on your idea before you apply. Entries will be judged principally by ProPublica editors. Winning proposals will be announced in June, to enable work to begin on July 1.
Here are a few questions and answers about what we’re looking for in a proposal.
Is this different from other groups in your Local Reporting Network?
Much like our original Local Reporting Network, this one is not topic-specific and is open to any local accountability ideas.
Will you also be seeking applications this fall for projects to begin in January?
Yes. Look for details this fall. If you want to be added to our list, sign up here.
What subjects are best suited to this program?
Our local reporting initiative has the same mission as that of ProPublica overall: to spur change through stories with moral force.
How detailed should we make our proposal if the deep reporting is ahead of us?
We know that the best stories take unanticipated turns. That said, there are several elements that can be included in a proposal. If you’re considering an idea relating to a trend, please check whether any data exists that might prove (or disprove) your story idea. It would also be helpful to provide some assessment of how your project will distinguish itself if it builds on previous coverage.
At ProPublica, we try to send reporters after stories that we feel would not be done if we did not exist. While we’ll give preference to ideas that break new ground, we could well underwrite reporting that significantly expands on a subject that has already been the focus of some reporting. We encourage you to propose reporting that time or resource constraints have prevented you from doing. That could be something about which you have already turned up enough information to know there’s a bigger story waiting to be done.
Will we still be in charge of our own reporter?
Yes. Your organization will designate your lead editor. They will work hand in hand with a ProPublica senior editor who will offer guidance on making the stories from each of our Local Reporting Network partners as powerful and well-executed as they can be. That ProPublica editor will also help assess whether there are ways that our expertise with data, research or engagement could be of use.
The key decisions about how the story will be reported and written will be made in collaboration between us and your newsroom. Since we plan to jointly publish stories that result from this collaboration, that will mean, as in all of our partnerships, producing work that meets the standards of both your organization and ProPublica.
This sounds tricky, and it can sometimes get complicated. But through literally hundreds of partnerships, we’ve found that when people are truly committed to collaborating, there’s always a way to make it work.
Can the reporter work on other stories while they’re doing their investigative project?
The goal of this initiative is to give your newsroom the resources and help to execute accountability stories that would not otherwise have been possible. We expect the reporter will be working on that full-time. Having said that, we understand that other, crucial stories may come up. If that happens, we are confident we can all settle on a plan that works for everyone.
If I’m a reporter, what happens if another job opportunity comes up?
This is a 12-month commitment, and by accepting this position, you are agreeing in good faith to stay for the duration. Obviously, we know family emergencies and other situations may come up, but you should expect to commit to working on this project for the entire year. If you have doubts, you may not want to apply.
How many stories are we expected to produce under this grant?
We’ve never found quotas particularly useful. Our reporters aim to produce a body of work each year that offers the possibility of prompting change. Sometimes, that has been a succession of stories building to a larger piece or pieces, as we did with the Red Cross. Sometimes, it’s a traditional multipart series or a single story, with appropriate follow-ups. Sometimes, it’s a group of deep-dive pieces on a related topic, such as fracking or drug company payments to doctors. The goal is impact, and there are many routes to achieving it.
What if we drill a dry hole?
This is always possible in investigative reporting, but our experience has shown it is unlikely. Send motivated reporters after a promising subject and they almost inevitably find intriguing material, including things they were not looking for when they began their research. Our plan is for our senior editor in charge of this project to be in regular touch with the newsrooms receiving the grants. If a story idea doesn’t work out, we will encourage the newsroom involved to come up with something else.
What kind of support can I expect from ProPublica?
In addition to editing help to conceptualize and write your stories, we will also have a data reporter, a researcher and an engagement reporter dedicated to helping our partner newsrooms. We stand ready to offer design help for the stories as well.
What happens if we do so well, there’s more than a year’s work?
We should all be so lucky! Our intention is to provide one year of support. If a newsroom taps into something that is among the most promising proposals for year two, it would get serious consideration.
What about other costs, such as travel or public records requests?
News organizations should expect to incur most of those costs, though ProPublica has set aside some funding to help offset those expenses. You should consult with us in advance about splitting costs.
We are based outside the United States. Can we apply?
At this time, the Local Reporting Network is only open to news organizations based in this country.
Can we run our idea by you before applying?
Yes. Operators are standing by. In all seriousness, we want to help you make your proposal the best it can be. ProPublica reporters and editors are willing to read a draft of your proposal and give you our thoughts.