Sun-Gazette ready to Report for America

Kaitlin Washburn of Columbia, Mo. is among 61 Report for America corps members placed in 50 local newsrooms across the country


EXETER — At the beginning of this year, The Sun-Gazette announced it was one of just three weekly newsrooms to be selected for Report for America, a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.

Next month, The Sun-Gazette will have a new full-time reporter dedicated to covering agriculture from all angles when the newsroom welcomes Kaitlin Washburn of Columbia, Mo. Washburn recently graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in investigative journalism. She is currently a copy editor for the Columbia Missourian and has interned at The Morning Call in Allentown, Penn., The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., and the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. Since 2016, Washburn has been a member of the Investigative Reports and Editors organization. 

Kaitlin Washburn Report for America reporter for the Sun-Gazette

Kaitlin Washburn
Report for America reporter for the Sun-Gazette

Being in the midst of one of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions, Washburn will follow stories of how regulations are affecting farms of all sizes, how labor issues affect the poverty of farm workers, and how government subsidies play a role in one of the oldest business models of the private sector.

“I’m interested in exploring how Ag is impacted by and impacts state policies and regulations, climate change, migrant workers and trade,” Washburn said.

Washburn was among 61 reporters placed in 50 local news organizations across 28 states and Puerto Rico by Report for America (RFA) following a highly competitive search. An initiative of The GroundTruth Project, Report for America addresses an urgent need in American journalism at a time when local news deserts threaten our democracy like never before. The reporters, referred to as “corps members,” were chosen after a highly selective national competition that drew nearly 1,000 applications. Some 70 leading journalists, editors and teachers acted as judges. 

The 2019 corps, which begins reporting in June, includes 50 newly selected journalists and 11 current Report for America corps members who will continue their service for a second year. 

These reporters reflect the wide ranging perspectives of communities they will serve—more than forty-percent of the corps members are journalists of color and seventy-percent are women. One-third of the corps members will be reporting in a place they call home. 

The new corps members have won numerous awards, including North Dakota Newspaper Association Rookie Reporter of the Year, the Emma Bowen Award for Courage Reporting, the Green Eyeshade Award and the Felker Award for Excellence in Long Form Journalism. 

They have a range of experience at local newspapers such as the Grand Forks Herald, Las Vegas Sun Reporter and the Toledo Blade; radio stations like Wisconsin Public Radio and WBUR; and national news outlets including the Associated Press, National Public Radio, Reuters and Fox News. 

In addition, the corps includes several remarkable journalists who have had extraordinary non-journalistic careers—two Olympic athletes, a pediatrician and a geography professor. 

“The quality of the applicant pool was mind-boggling, and their spirit—the commitment to local journalism as

public service—was genuinely inspiring,” said Steven Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America. 

Through their reporting, corps members will tackle some of the most important issues facing Americans today. Eight will cover health, including a pediatrician who will report on child health in Modesto, California. Seven will cover Native American issues. Others will focus on agriculture, the environment, criminal justice, and local government. Several corps members will work in Spanish-language media outlets, covering, for example, ongoing hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico. This year, Report for America will also expand its state and regional corps: Eight corps members will work in California, eight are headed to newsrooms in the Mountain West and we are expanding our corps in Appalachia by two. 

Earlier this year, Report for America announced a major expansion, quadrupling its placement of reporters from 13 in 2018, to at least 61 in 2019. The expansion of the corps was made possible by philanthropic leaders including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Facebook, Google News Initiative, the Ford Foundation, Natasha and Dirk Ziff, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Galloway Family Foundation, the Tow Foundation, LOR Foundation and many more. 

“Ensuring that every community has access to great local news is vital to restoring trust in media and our democracy. That’s why expanding the pool of excellent journalists who are passionate about local news is so important,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories that, for years, had been overlooked,” said Samantha Max, a second-year corps member. “Communities need journalists to hold leaders accountable and provide platforms to ordinary citizens whose voices are often ignored.” 

Report for America leverages a unique funding match model, paying half of a corps member’s salary, while encouraging and supporting its local news partners to contribute one-quarter and local and regional funders to contribute the final quarter. 

“Report for America promotes new models for shared investment in local journalism, increasing the chances of sustaining watchdog community reporting, for the community, by the community,” said Charles Sennott, the CEO and editor-in-chief of the GroundTruth Project, which launched Report for America in 2017. 

“Bringing on Report for America reporters enables KUER to open bureaus in southern Utah, so we jumped at the chance,” said Andrew Becker, news director for KUER/NPR Utah in Salt Lake City. “We have reported on that half of our state for years, but to have a steady presence there, to be part of the community on a daily basis and to report regularly on issues that concern people across Utah will be a huge win for our newsroom, our station and our listeners.” 

Corps members will attend Report for America’s intensive training in Houston, Texas in June, followed by the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference before joining their newsrooms to launch their first year of service.

Start typing and press Enter to search