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WYSO Adds New Environmental Reporter Through Partnership With Report For America

Steve Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, spoke with WYSO news director Jason Saul.
Report for America
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Steve Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, spoke with WYSO news director Jason Saul.

One of the crises facing local communities all around the country right now remains the continuing loss of local journalists.

Report for America is a nationwide initiative that’s working to change that, and this year it’s helping to put 225 new journalists into newsrooms all across the country. One of those newsrooms is here at WYSO, in Southwest Ohio. Chris Welter, our new Environmental Reporter, started just last week.

WYSO News Director Jason Saul sat down with Steve Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, to discover more about the program and to talk a little bit about what we’re hoping to accomplish here in the Miami Valley.

Jason Saul: So tell me again, what is the purpose of Report for America? Why are you working to put journalists into local newsrooms around the country?

Steve Waldman: There's been a total collapse of local news. Even before the COVID epidemic, the number of reporters had fallen by half, which makes the collapse kind of on the same scale as the decline of the coal industry or the steel industry with big consequences for communities. No. Voter turnout tends to go down. Government waste goes up. And that was all before covered and covered is basically just devastated the local news world. And so Report for America is trying to fill in the gaps of providing reporters to cover the really important topics that maybe these need or health care and education reporting and environmental reporting. 

Jason Saul: What is it about WYSO and our part of Ohio that made our growing newsroom the right place to put another journalist?

Steve Waldman: Well, it was very competitive and I think was two things. One was need — the station had identified a real gap in coverage around the environmental beat and the effects of climate change on southwest Ohio, including solutions or problems. And second is just kind of reputation for quality. You know, we're placing these journalists there and they're good journalists already, but we want to make sure that they also have good editing and a good history of high quality coverage. Part of the point of this program is to kind of reestablish the idea of local journalism as a public service profession in the same way we think of teachers as public service professions. And I think most journalists who go into it actually have that spirit when they start. And it sometimes gets ground out of them. But the business model problems where they're not really allowed to sink their teeth into these really civically important beats. And so we like the idea of underlying this concept that local reporting can be a public service profession and one that you're doing to help the community.

Jason Saul: Can you tell me some more about some of the reporters who are part of your effort? We received, for instance, some pretty incredible applications from folks all around the country.

Steve Waldman: Yeah, it was an amazing crew, we had 1,800 applicants for about 180 open positions. So the talent level is very high. It was very competitive. Usually people with a couple of years experience and the ones who are right out of college have had, you know, kind of crazy amounts of experience reading some of these reservations like Chris'. It looked like someone who had been at it for five years and then it says graduating in May. So they're really pretty incredible. I've always joked that there's no way that I would have been accepted to Report for America as a young journalist if I had applied.

Jason Saul: So your reporters are about to start at their jobs all around the country. Are you excited? Are you nervous? How do you know when this has been a success?

Steve Waldman: Well, we mostly know it is a success by reading the articles and listening to the stories that the reporters do. The ultimate measure is whether or not they're doing good journalism for the community. But it is also just incredibly infectious to see their excitement. We had a online welcome to 225 core members, and it's just thrilling to see the level of talent and the enthusiasm. Yeah, and the face of an epidemic to be there fired up and ready to go out there. And, you know, whatever anxiety they almost certainly have about going and doing reporting in dangerous times seems to be overwhelmed by a sense of mission that if anything, local reporting is more important than ever. And they're seeing that, you know, the rest of the country is is kind of maybe becoming more aware of the importance of local reporting. So it's hard not to get excited by their excitement.

Jason Saul: Well, Steve Waldman of Report for America, thank you so much for joining us today.

Steve Waldman: Thank you for having me.