Journalism has taken a substantial hit in the last decade. According to The Nation, of the 60,000 print journalists employed in 2001, at least 10,000 have lost their jobs while newspaper circulation dropped 7%. And an American Journalism Review study found that only 355 full-time newspaper reporters are still based in the nation’s state capitols and that 44 statehouses have fewer full-time reporters than they did six years ago.
The decline in employment of professional journalists by traditional news media is not the result of a failure of journalism or demand by citizens for local and state news. It is the result of media business leaders’ failure to adapt to new market realities. The historic for-profit news model is failing in print, broadcast and if early revenue numbers hold, on the Web.
The gaping hole in local and state news has left many asking “Who Covers the Statehouse?” and “Where are all of the investigative journalists gone?”
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was established as a direct response to those questions and the overall growing mediocrity in the mainstream media.
The Franklin Center undertakes programs that promote journalism and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud, and taxpayer abuses by government officials at the state and local levels. The Franklin Center networks and trains independent investigative reporters, journalists at state-based news organizations and think tanks, and watchdog groups and acts as a capacity builder providing resources, a national research capacity, and regular training seminars to our network of investigative journalists and Watchdog reporters.
Utilizing staff expertise and new media resources, the Franklin Center identifies and supports investigative journalists as they work to detect and expose corruption in our elected and public officials and to promote transparency and accountability at the state and local levels. The Franklin Center’s greatest asset is its affiliates’ local focus. Affiliates choose specific story targets, commit to using highly trained and professional citizens trained with journalistic skills, take a strategic approach to using and distributing resources and focus on tangible results. These and many other features are what set the Franklin Center apart from other groups. In short, the Franklin Center has turned the focus back to local and state issues, and their readers are better informed as a result.
The Franklin Center has two vital initiatives that support journalists and provide an atmosphere in which creating quality, unbiased news coverage is the top priority.
The first Franklin Center program is the Watchdog.org initiative, which began in September 2009. Watchdog.org is a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity. In only seven months these state-based watchdog groups have demonstrated that online news websites can churn out investigative pieces instead of the usual Web punditry. Franklin Center’s Watchdogs are changing the conversation in the media, politics, and in households around the nation. Their articles are working to keep our government officials accountable to the people and keep their communities informed about their government.
The Watchdogs have reported on everything from national security to healthcare. A reporter at texaswatchdog.org recently discovered that the Department of Homeland Security lost nearly 1,000 computers in 2008, possibly endangering our national security. It was an investigative reporter in Hawaii that delved into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pricey holiday Hawaiian trip, which included an astonishing $10,000 nightly expense and with more than $21,000 in security cost to Hawaii taxpayers. A Watchdog in Michigan at Mackinac Center discovered that Michigan taxpayers were funding Michael Moore’s new anti-capitalism film.
The second initiative that Franklin Center sponsors is the Statehouse News Bureaus. Responding to the growing vacuum in state-based coverage of the happenings in state capitals, the Franklin Center is assisting journalists covering the daily activities of state government. By placing reporters in state capitals in several states so far, these reporters cover the daily happenings of government and hold elected and public officials accountable to the people.
The success of the statehouse news bureaus can be seen in the news coverage produced by Illinois Statehouse Bureau (IS). ISN tirelessly covers the happening at the Illinois Capitol and their daily news content is used by at least 50 Illinois radio stations every day and 12 daily Illinois newspapers. They also produce reports in audio and text format and do video reports several times a week. By maximizing its media formats, the Illinois Statehouse Bureau reaches its audience in every way possible.
Although the distant future of journalism as a business remains unclear, one thing for sure is that the Franklin Center and its affiliated programs will continue to serve as a critical asset to readers of today and tomorrow. Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, once said that “a newspaper in every home” was the “principle support of … morality” in civic life. The decline of American newspapers might sadden Franklin, but the pursuit of greatness in journalism by organizations like the Franklin Center would without a doubt bring him pride.
If you are a reporter or a citizen journalist and are interested in getting involved in non-profit journalism, please email [email protected] For more information on Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.
Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.