The following was originally published on RedAlert Politics. Franklin Center thanks them for featuring our Citizen Watchdog training work and our professional journalism network.
By Darin Miller | RedAlert Politics – March 28, 2012
In July 2009, Business Insider reported that 105 newspapers had closed in the first six months of the year, in an article with the headline, “The Year The Newspaper Died.” Fortunately, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was founded the same year.
The Franklin Center is a non-profit designed to work with non-traditional news sources like non-profit journalism groups, independent activists and bloggers to help fill the gap of shrinking media covering state capitols. The center first made a splash with the uncovering of “phantom congressional districts” in November of that year.
Franklin has been growing ever since, continually expanding their influence and aid to non-traditional media. At the helm is Jason Stverak, who has served as president since its founding. He came from the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to inspiring and encouraging grassroots activism. Interestingly, the Alliance’s namesake was a newspaperman as well. Adams was responsible for the Committees of Correspondence and a newspaper publisher in Boston in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.
At the Franklin Center, Stverak’s background of grassroots activism is applied to the newsroom. In accordance with Ben Franklin’s credo – no one’s liberty or property is secure when the legislature is in session – the center equips journalists from over 50 organizations nationwide to uncover government corruption on the state and local level, preparing them to dig deep and bring to light abuses within the system. “The media doesn’t have the time to pursue these long-term stories on the government,” Stverak said. Groups like the Michigan nonprofit Mackinac Center for Public Policy do though, and its extensive reporting on the SEIU recently proves it.
Stverak attributes this as a key reason for the Franklin Center’s success. “I’ll be honest, it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s about providing a product that people need. They want and desire … quality journalism.” He noted that while Americans used to be able to depend on their local news outlets, today those outlets are unable to provide the consistent in-depth coverage and reporting needed to keep government accountable. “[W]hen they don’t get that information anymore they go looking for sources that will provide that for them. And that’s the roll that we at the Franklin Center … have been providing for them,” he said.