In a special New York Times supplement this past Sunday, the two co-founders of Report for America — president Steve Waldman and Charles Sennott of Harvard — declared that it was time to think of local journalism as a public service. Their organization recruits talented emerging journalists and places them with news organizations that have successfully shown they have “civically important” gaps in their coverage, such as health care, the environment, education, or a particular community or region. News organizations compete for journalists; journalists compete for placement. Waldman and Sennott say that Report for America has placed 61 reporters, each committed to a one- or two-year tour, in 50 newsrooms across the country. This year 940 applicants applied for 50 slots. It’s a model that builds on the experience of the Peace Corps and Americorps in placing volunteers in communities with unmet needs.
Report for America is an exciting initiative that has beefed up understaffed newsrooms and brought new coverage to underserved communities. But you don’t have to look beyond Harvard for opportunities to serve. At the Harvard Press, a sense of community service drives our operation, which is staffed by hometown reporters, editors, and photographers committed to doing good journalism. The Press has its own gaps to fill but believes that its long-term sustainability depends on growing its talent locally. That’s our staffing model. We provide contributors with a place to hone their skills (and see their names in print) and support them with the feedback and training they need to get better. And their work is a public service, keeping residents informed and building community.
Whether you’re taking a year off between college and grad school, searching for a post-retirement mission, or just want to learn more and write about the town you live in, consider a stint at the Press, your own award-winning paper. Prior school or professional experience is always welcome, but not a requirement. To learn more, drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.