These days, few daily newspapers in America have the resources or ambition to take on in-depth stories that require extensive reporting and research. Weekly newspapers, particularly those in rural areas, seldom can afford to devote time, energy and money to major projects when they are focused on coverage of events and news vital to the civic health of the community.
Even in better times, traditional journalism attitudes have worked against creative approaches to supporting that kind of demanding work — call it investigative, non-fiction long-form narrative, community service or whatever. Alternative means of financing big projects were regarded as possibly compromising the effort.
Those attitudes are changing, out of necessity and perhaps enlightenment. Non-traditional partnerships are emerging as a legitimate means of doing valuable journalism with credibility and impact. Increasingly, the nonprofit sector is finding innovative ways to support ambitious local journalism while adhering to high standards for independent reporting and ethical practices.
The Methow Valley News has been the grateful beneficiary of such assistance in the past. Now we are embarking on an exciting new partnership that reflects progressive developments in the evolving world of collaborative journalism. Thanks to a Rural Reporting Fellowship granted to Methow Valley News reporter Ashley Ahearn, we have partnered with Ecotrust — a Portland-based nonprofit which supports an impressive range of social, economic and environmental projects and other forward-looking initiatives — to help provide the resources necessary for substantive reporting of climate change issues on a local basis. The News will administer the grant to support the production of four in-depth articles this year. (See story on Page A1 for Ashley’s take on the project.)
Here’s how Ecotrust characterizes the partnership:
“As more local news outlets disappear, it’s become very difficult to make a living as a journalist if you don’t live in a big city. 73 percent of all Internet publishing jobs are concentrated in coastal cities. That means that journalists are becoming less connected with rural communities who depend on natural resources for economic survival, and are being directly impacted by the effects of climate change. These are some of the most complex and important issues of our time — issues that are central to the work of Ecotrust — and rural voices are being given short shrift in coverage of those issues. Journalists parachute in from big cities for a story and often miss the local nuance or subtleties of the communities they are presuming to cover. And for that, we all suffer, as the rift between rural and urban widens and distrust in the ‘coastal elite media’ grows. Ecotrust has a chance to counter this trend by creating a new fellowship for journalists living in rural communities. By providing economic support, the Rural Reporting Fellowship will enable journalists who live in rural communities to tell stories that are truly of those communities.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve benefited from the confidence and support of generous donors. Our “Trial by Fire” publication was funded by Tom and Sonya Campion through the Community Foundation of North Central Washington. The follow-up publication, “Living With Fire,” was backed by a substantial donation from the local Moccasin Lake Foundation. We worked with the Reddington family on a community fundraising effort to publish “Living With Alzheimer’s: The Reddington Project.” Links to all of these publications can be found on our website, www.methowvalleynews.com.
None of those were profit generators for us. But without those partnerships, we could not have afforded to take on such projects. In each case, the content was developed by the Methow Valley News without restrictions or directions by the donors. That’s how we assure the credibility of our work.
The same will be true under our agreement with Ecotrust. Ashley developed the four story proposals based on issues of particular local importance and her own experiences and interests. Ecotrust had no involvement in the specific story ideas we developed, nor will it be involved in the reporting and editing process.
When I learned more about Ecotrust, I was impressed with the breadth, scope and ingenuity of its groundbreaking work over nearly 30 years. For more information what Ecotrust has accomplished, visit ecotrust.org. The rural reporting fellowship is consistent with Ecotrust’s mission, but the responsibility for a quality product is ours. We have a demanding year of work ahead of us.
Climate change is an issue the Methow Valley News has consistently covered in the past and will continue to focus on in the future. The partnership with Ecotrust helps us fulfill that pledge. I know Ashley is excited to dig in and hopes to hear from readers with ideas or questions.