On a Mission To Save Democracy, One Reporter at a Time

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Melissa Ballard Sullivan photo

InDepthNH.org founder Nancy West, far right, serves on the Institute for Nonprofit News board of directors, pictured at the recent annual meeting in Houston. From left: INN executive director Sue Cross; Laura Frank, vice president of journalism at Rocky Mountain PBS; outgoing board member Brant Houston, INN co-founder, professor and Knight Chair of Investigative Reporting at the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Anne Galloway, executive director of VTDigger; Marcia Parker, publisher and chief operating officer of CALmatters; Norberto Santana, investigative reporter and founder of Voice of Orange County; and West, founder and executive editor of New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, publisher of InDepthNH.org.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

InDepthNH.org isn’t just a trusted online news source dedicated to telling the truth to New Hampshire.

We are proud to be part of a fast-growing 200-plus newsrooms strong movement across the country through the Institute for Nonprofit News. Here we partner with dedicated journalists who refuse to give up reporting unbiased watchdog news in the face of dramatic declines in revenue, circulation and staffing at many daily newspapers.

The Institute for Nonprofit News celebrated its 10 anniversary last week at INN Days with Accelerating Nonprofit News, a two-day bootcamp in Houston sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

InDepthNH.org’s founder Nancy West and Vice President of Philanthropy Melissa Ballard Sullivan shared our experience, strength and hope while soaking up the awesome energy, knowledge and training offered not just from the amazing experts, but other members of newsrooms who are forging a path to sustainable news.

It was incredible to discover how many newsrooms started just like us – knowing we had to do something to turn around the decline in news and charging forward, but otherwise clueless about how to make it all work.

Luckily, the Institute for Nonprofit News started a decade ago and their mission is to pave our way to success. And they do it exceedingly well.

If you are worried that we are going to throw in the towel because 60 percent of news jobs have disappeared in New Hampshire since 2000, newsroom staffs have been slashed, workloads increased and many working in the business haven’t seen a raise in a real long time, put those fears aside.

InDepthNH.org has taken up the INN gauntlet instead.

Sue Cross, executive director of INN, put it simply even though what she is calling for is by no means a simple feat – 20,000 nonprofit news jobs by 2030, growing the number of journalists in the field 10 fold over the next 10 years to replace those lost over the last 15 years.

Sue Cross is pictured at INN Days last week in Houston. INN photo

My new friend Jiquanda Johnson, founder and publisher of Flint Beat, a hyperlocal news site about Flint, Mich., perfectly captured in a tweet the gauntlet Sue Cross raised to the 260 people who showed up in Houston.

“The world is watching and what you’re doing is important…nonprofit news is leading a global movement,” Sue Cross, CEO & Executive Director of the Institute for Nonprofit News, said.

At a special session for young organizations on funding, Jiquanda told personal stories about Flint, how as a journalist she gets calls because she is a real part of her community, not just about the deaths and government corruption around the city’s lead-tainted water crisis, but of the community events where Flint folks celebrate and work and live together and even triumph.

People like Jiquanda inspire me. She quit her job at a legacy newspaper where she covered city hall because of cuts to Flint’s coverage. She knew the stories of her community needed to be told.

She fretted, too, like other young nonprofit outlets, that when she is working to raise money, learning how to find the resources to showcase the important stories, her time telling those stories sometimes gets shortchanged.

But she keeps on juggling the reporting and fundraising and knows it is going to work. On the last day of the INN Days on Thursday, criminal charges against all eight officials linked to the lead scandal in Flint were dropped and the citizens told the investigation would have to start over.

InDepthNH.org was able to launch on a shoestring because of the goodwill, talent and passion of people like Garry Rayno, Paula Tracy, Bob Charest, Montana West, Roger Wood, Susan Dromey Heeter, Wayne King, George Liset and more. They work for very little or less because they believe in this mission.

But now is the time to build this business so we can bring you more news that matters to you. Stay tuned.

The special session was a full day before INN Days, a real bonus with trainer Jennifer McCrea, a Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University. She writes and speaks about money and forced us to look at it in a totally new way of inviting people to partner with us to bring about social change.

She is the co-author of the best-selling book, The Generosity Network. She is co-founder of Born Free Africa and is a Vice Chairman of the United Nation’s MDG Health Alliance. We quickly showed her that while reporters will stand boldly asking the hard questions of the most difficult people, we cringe when trying to raise the money we need to fulfill our missions.

Jennifer McCrea, a Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University, spoke about reframing how we think about money, generosity and social change. Nancy West photo

McCrea crammed a full Harvard course in exponential fundraising into a fascinating day where I was truly able to reframe my thoughts on money and funding news that matters, news that must be reported. It no longer feels to me like begging.

It feels like the chance to provide an opportunity for people to participate in the future of news because they are generous and they care and they believe as I do and Melissa does in the hope that comes with the prospect of change.

And of course there were many other people at INN Days who have been in the thick of nonprofit news for many years, like Steve Katz, publisher of Mother Jones, who spoke about money; Karen Rundlet, Director of Journalism Program, Knight Foundation; and Jason Alcorn and Christine Shih, who help us navigate the generous NewsMatch program.

And for a state as homogeneous as New Hampshire, it was important to hear Martin Reynolds, Co-Executive Director, External Affairs and Funding, The Maynard Institute, who spoke passionately about diversity,  a reminder that diversity is a key indicator of trustworthy content.

At the McCrea session, a couple of younger newsroom representatives asked for advice and I was happy to share. Get yourself a Vice President of Philanthropy like Melissa Ballard Sullivan. We were only able to recruit her because of a grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. And her work will be critical to our future.

Trying to juggle news reporting with funding and building a nonprofit news outlet has provided me with a deep respect for people who know how to provide the opportunity to partner to make change.

You’ll be hearing from Melissa and me in the coming year starting tomorrow. Have we got opportunities for you, partner.

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