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60 Minutes looks at crisis in local news & Report for America's work to rebuild journalism

CBS to highlight RFA, which supports 2 reporters in Tucson Sentinel's nonprofit newsroom

Sunday night, 60 Minutes is set to air a story about how hedge funds and chains have hollowed out local news — and how groups like Report for America, which supports work at the Tucson Sentinel, are rebuilding journalism with local support.

The CBS news program will look at the crisis in local news around the country — a challenge that's particularly evident in Tucson, where there are hundreds fewer reporters keeping watch than just a few years ago.

One of the efforts to bolster newsrooms is Report for America, which now backs two positions in the Sentinel's nonprofit newsroom, covering diversity and access issues, and our community's unique creative culture.

60 Minutes is scheduled to broadcast "Headlines, Deadlines, Bottom Lines" on Sunday evening, with Jon Wertheim reporting on how hedge funds and other financial firms have swallowed up newspapers, closing newsrooms and slashing staff.

The episode will feature Report for America as one answer to the crisis and the threat it poses to democracy.  RFA is a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered issues and communities.

The segment includes interviews with Steven Waldman, Report for America’s co-founder and president, and five of the nonprofit program’s current and former reporting corps members. According to studies, the number of reporters in the country has declined 60 percent since 2000, a job decline similar in scale to the coal industry. Some 1,800 communities now have no local news outlet and the vacuum is being filled by misinformation—largely shared via social media that leads to polarization.

Since we began publishing in 2010, the Tucson Sentinel has become a nationally recognized leader in making local news work again. We helped found Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, which now has a membership of about 350 local news entrepreneurs around the country, rebuilding journalism outside of the legacy chain.

And with the support of so many Tucsonans, we've been able to report stories that nobody else will dig into.

Support TucsonSentinel.com today, because a smarter Tucson is a better Tucson!

While both newspapers owned by legacy chains (such as the Arizona Daily Star, split between Lee Enterprises and Gannett — which also owns the Arizona Republic) and TV outlets operated by television chains such as Tegna (which runs two stations here) have repeatedly cut and slashed their news staffs and thus the number and quality of stories they can report, the Tucson Sentinel has been the only locally owned independent new outlet in our community. And we're growing — with your help.

That track record is why the Sentinel was one of just two Arizona news outlets selected for a new local journalism position backed by Report for America from among about 600 applications across the country this year.

But RFA only covers a portion of the costs of a journalist's salary, benefits and other reporting expenses — the rest needs to come from readers like you, who understand just how important independent watchdog reporting is to our community.

Join the Sentinel's Watchdog Club

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Our new Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter will join the Sentinel's current RFA corps member, IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity & Access) reporter Bennito L. Kelty, as part of our nonprofit newsroom.

The Sentinel's new journalist will have a portion of their fulltime salary covered by a grant from Report for America, with the remainder of their salary and support costs paid for with financial contributions from our readers to our independent nonprofit newsroom. You can become a member of the Watchdog Club, and help fund this new reporting position, the IDEA desk, and all of the Sentinel's vital independent journalism.

The Cultural Expression and Community Values beat will be bilingual and intersectional, going far beyond a traditional "arts" beat to explore the ties that bind us and the dreams that push us, with hard news and contextual journalism on the deep traditions and creative cross-cultural innovations in local art, performance, music, writing, architecture and public design, theatre, faith and religion, community groups, food and folkways.

The Sentinel's new reporter will explore not just what's happening locally, but go far beyond listing current cultural events and simple reviews to the essential *why* these things are happening. Our journalist will be interviewing the creative people behind the expressions that inspire us, and telling our community why they're driven to build and craft and reflect this town in their work, as well as placing things in necessary context.

The privately organized Report for America initiative, part of The GroundTruth Project, is a two-year program (with an option for three) that delivers a wide range of benefits to its corps of journalists placed on local newsrooms. Beyond paying up to half of the journalists' salaries, it provides ongoing training and mentoring by leading journalists, peer networking, and memberships to select professional organizations. To help connect corps members to their communities, they are required to undertake a service project, which often includes students in journalism-related activities. Sentinel IDEA reporter Bennito L. Kelty has been working with local high-school students as part of his service project.

We're tremendously excited to be renewed as a Report for America newsroom, and have this opportunity to grow the Tucson Sentinel's newsroom even more. It's rewarding to play a role in rebuilding local news across the country, with RFA and our work with groups such as the Institute for Nonprofit News and LION Publishers.

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While chain-run newspapers and stations have cut and cut and cut yet again — and are poised to continue to shrink their work rather than invest in the future — truly local news organizations like the Sentinel aren't just breaking important news stories — we're leading the way in fixing the news business. And we're doing that with support from national groups such as Report for America, along with vital donations from members of this community. We're very grateful for all of those contributions."

"Report for America is excited to continue to work with the Tucson Sentinel on a genuinely innovative beat to explore the ties that bind their community, providing deep dives into the traditions and cross-cultural events that shape their rich culture," said Teri Hayt, Report for America's deputy director of corps excellence and a former managing editor at the Arizona Daily Star. "RFA is committed to helping newsrooms find the stories that resonate and inform their communities."

Being picked to host yet another RFA corps member is a great honor for our local nonprofit newsroom, and a humbling affirmation of the quality of journalism that the entire Sentinel staff is providing our community. It's also a testament to the way our readers and community leaders have stepped up to support the Sentinel's reporting.

You can help the Sentinel publish these important stories by becoming a member of the WATCHDOG CLUB today.

Subscribe and stretch your donation over time:

$10/mo. Cub Reporter
$15/mo. Printer's Devil
$20/mo. Stringer
$40/mo. Correspondent
$50/mo. Senior Correspondent
Enter your own monthly amount (number only)

Or give a secure one-time gift with PayPal or your credit card:

$5,000 Newshound
$2,500 Trusted Source
$1,000 Copy Desk Chief
$500 Correspondent
$250 Stringer
$100 Printer's Devil
$50 Cub reporter
$25 Informed Source
$10 Dear Reader
Enter your own amount (below)

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