Herald-Leader receives Report for America grant to add visual journalist in 2020

From the Herald-Leader Staff

The Lexington Herald-Leader will receive a grant from Report for America in 2020 to add a visual journalist focused on covering issues and challenges in rural communities throughout Kentucky.

This will be the third journalist hired at the Herald-Leader since 2018 through a grant from Report for America, which will place 250 emerging journalists in 164 host news organizations next year to serve local communities across 46 states.

The new journalist, who will focus on video and photo storytelling in rural Kentucky, joins two Report for America corps members already on the Herald-Leader staff: reporter Will Wright, who covers Eastern Kentucky from a bureau in Pikeville, and reporter Alex Acquisto, who covers health and social service issues in Kentucky. Both of those positions have been renewed for another year.

“We offer a pretty simple fix for news holes in communities throughout the country — local reporters on the ground, who hold leaders accountable and report on under-covered issues,” said Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America. “The editors we’ve met during our application cycle have shown us amazing passion, commitment and sharp ideas for how to better serve their local communities.”

Report for America launched in late 2017, when it announced the placement of reporters in three newsrooms covering central Appalachia — the Herald-Leader, Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. That grant, funded by the Galloway Family Foundation, allowed the Herald-Leader to re-establish a news bureau in Eastern Kentucky for the first time since 2011.

In June, a second Report for America corps member joined the Herald-Leader to cover health and social services issues in central, eastern and southern Kentucky. That reporting position is also funded in part by a grant from the Blue Grass Community Foundation.

“The Herald-Leader’s partnership with Report for America and other community partners has led to substantive journalism that has brought about change on critical issues in Kentucky, exposing poor-quality water in Appalachia, showing how coal companies like Blackjewel failed to pay a state bond to protect miners’ paychecks, chronicling the re-emergence of meth amid the opioid epidemic, and much more,” said Peter Baniak, the Herald-Leader’s editor and general manager. “We’re excited to build on that relationship by adding a visual journalist who will further enhance our ability to tell stories that matter the most to Kentucky communities.”

The 2020 Report for America class is more than four times the size of the 2019 class, who have been reporting in 50 local news organizations across 28 states and Puerto Rico. The news marks the “single biggest hiring announcement of journalists in recent memory,” the organization said.

Applications are being accepted now until Jan. 31 at reportforamerica.org for the new reporting slots, and will be evaluated through a nationally-competitive process. Journalists will start work in their new newsrooms in June.

Other news organizations receiving RFA grants in Kentucky for 2020 include WFPL in Louisville, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Associated Press, the Northern Kentucky Tribune and the Cincinnati Enquirer in Northern Kentucky.

RFA said the dramatic expansion of the corps in 2020 was made possible by philanthropic organizations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Google News Initiative, the Ford Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Tow Foundation and many more.

RFA pays half of a corps member’s salary, while asking its local news partners to contribute one-quarter and supporting them in getting local and regional funders to contribute the final quarter. The goal of the model is to expand the number of local reporting positions permanently.

Those who want to help support this effort will have their donations tripled by NewsMatch and other challenge donors through Dec. 31.

Organizations or individuals interested in supporting the local match for the Herald-Leader’s RFA journalists may contact Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak at pbaniak@herald-leader.com.

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