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From the editor

Sentinel welcomes our new IDEA reporter: Bennito L. Kelty

Report for America corps member will reveal untold stories, watchdog local gov't with your help

A new fulltime journalist will be digging into government accountability and social equity in Southern Arizona soon, with support from TucsonSentinel.com's readers and the national Report for America program. Bennito L. Kelty has signed on to be our IDEA reporter.

Beginning in June, he'll be covering issues of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Access while upholding the Sentinel tradition of watchdog journalism. Bennito has already made his mark with the Sentinel, reporting important election stories and translating work into Spanish. And now we're able to bring him aboard full time with the backing of Report for America — and help from readers like you!

"I'm excited and honored to now have the responsibility of serving Tucson as a Report for America corps member," Bennito said.

The Sentinel was among 64 newsrooms across the United States, picked from hundreds of applying news organizations, to join the RFA program this year. Bennito, a graduate of the acclaimed Missouri School of Journalism, is among the more than 140 journalists of color selected to be in this cohort of about 300 reporters across the country.

These reporting positions come at a critical moment, when many local newsrooms are closing or cutting back — leaving a vacuum of trusted, accurate information that is being filled by partisan news sites and online disinformation that threaten our democracy.

RFA pays for a portion of the salary of each member of its reporting corps, with local communities picking up the remainder of the cost. (See below for how you can pitch in!) The program carefully vets applicants — both newsrooms and reporters — ensuring that it's backing expanded reporting in places where it is needed most.

"The crisis in our democracy, disinformation and polarization, is in many ways a result of the collapse of local news," said Steven Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America. "We have a unique opportunity to reverse this decline by filling newsrooms with talented journalists who not only view journalism as a public service, but who can make trusted connections with the communities they serve."

Bennito will be watchdogging local government agencies, businesses and activist groups with a focus on the IDEAs that affect our community: issues of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Access. This new member of our Sentinel team will report on cross-topic stories about ethnicity, race, poverty and changing demographics, with an eye to telling stories that would otherwise go untold.

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"I've never been somewhere else like Tucson, a place that has white hills in the winter and warm nights and nopales with red flowers in the spring. I love living here because I've met people here with different backgrounds and ambitions who all agree to love Tucson, its mountains and patios on warm nights," Bennito said. "I hope to report stories that bring us together as a community, and show us how to take care of this special place."

Being picked as an RFA newsroom was exciting and humbling for our local nonprofit organization, and we're very pleased we're able to offer this post to an excellent young reporter who's keenly interested in what's happening in our city, county and region.

Report for America will fund a portion of the his salary; the Sentinel must cover the remainder of his pay and associated reporting expenses with financial contributions from our community. You can become a member of the Watchdog Club, and help fund this reporting position and the Sentinel's vital independent journalism.

Support Tucson's news watchdog 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)

"I'll work hard to be a trusted part of the community here, and I expect the IDEA beat to create respect for the diverse concerns and experiences for those who live together in this brilliant place," Bennito said.

In recruiting reporters for the program, RFA said it was looking for "talented, ethical, insanely hard-working, gutsy, open-minded, service-oriented journalists to inform communities and hold powerful institutions accountable."

Bennito is certainly that.

Bennito L. Kelty won a Missouri Press Association award with the St. Louis American for breaking news coverage and recognition for his reporting on struggling Lincoln University, the largest historically Black school in that state. Bennito also worked with the Yuma Sun as a border and county government reporter before he came to Tucson, where he has undertaken graduate work at the University of Arizona. With the Sentinel, he reported on the 2020 election, and explained how Arizona's handling of ballots can take time, but is a painstaking process with multiple checks and balances. A native speaker of both English and Spanish, he's translated news and analysis pieces for the Sentinel, including Jim Kiser's in-depth series on "Opportunity in Tucson."

Bennito grew up in Aurora, Colo., where a large immigrant community led to his interest in understanding how cultures from around the world play roles alongside each other in America. Along with his growing up in his Mexican-American household, his diverse hometown also fostered his love of languages, including his own native Spanish and English.

"As a journalist, I'm tell stories by connecting experiences and facts and bringing together what different people know to explain to all of us the reality of what's going on around us," he said. "I consider how national and international stories affect us here; I look for what experiences haven't been shared and who's been ignored. I lean into the openness of sources who trust me and want to share what's important that we all need to know."

Thanks for reading TucsonSentinel.com. Tell your friends to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Kim Kleman, senior vice president of Report for America, said, "Together, our emerging and experienced corps members will produce tens of thousands of articles on critically under-covered topics — schools, government, healthcare, the environment, communities of color, and more. The talent level they bring to their jobs can't be beat."

"We know that the biggest global challenges of our time — like equitable health care, the impact of climate change, and affordable housing — will require trusted, local public service journalism if we are to come together to solve them," said Charles Sennott, Report for America co-founder and GroundTruth CEO.

The privately organized Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit group, 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 part of the journalists' salaries, it provides ongoing training and mentoring by leading journalists, peer networking, and memberships to select professional organizations.

Not just breaking news — fixing the local news business

TucsonSentinel.com went through a highly selective proposal and interview process before being chosen as an RFA participant, and we were tremendously honored to be picked. It's exciting 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 Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers.

While chain-run newspapers and stations are bought and sold and have cut and cut and cut yet again (the Tucson Weekly, Inside Tucson Business, Explorer and the rest of Tucson Local Media just changed hands), 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 RFA, along with vital donations from members of this community. We're very grateful for all of those contributions; we couldn't do this work without them.

Among the leading current supporters of Report for America are: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Facebook Journalism Project; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Natasha and Dirk Ziff; The Joyce Foundation; Lumina Foundation; Jonathan Logan Family Foundation; Craig Newmark Philanthropies; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Heising-Simons Foundation; Tow Foundation; Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation; Henry L. Kimelman Foundation; the Wunderkinder Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Evelyn Y. Davis Foundation; Jesse and Betsy Fink; Leon Levy Foundation; Inasmuch Foundation; Select Equity Group Foundation; Annie E. Casey Foundation; Val A. Browning Charitable Foundation; Newman's Own Foundation; Further Forward Foundation; and McClatchy Foundation.

TucsonSentinel.com is a local independent mission-driven nonprofit newsroom, and we're supported by readers and community members like you, including: Edna Gray, Bill Roe, Melissa Vito, Dennis & Patricia DeConcini, Chris Hostetter, Beth Borozan, Newt & Sunny Ashby, Luise Levy, Abby Okrent, Bill Buckmaster, Michele Manos, Ginny Beal, John Bernal, Laura Conover, Rick Unklesbay, Mel Mason, George & Margie Cunnigham, JD Wallace, Sandy & Maureen Salz, Melinda Correll, Mohur Sidwa, Larry Hecker, Anne & Bob Segal, David Schaller, Si Schorr, Joni Jones, and so many others. Please stand with them.

Our reporters strive every day to bring you and your neighbors hard-hitting, fact-based journalism that provides deep context — and it's this mission that has driven us throughout our entire first decade of reporting at TucsonSentinel.com.

Won't you join the Sentinel in standing up for journalism that makes a difference?

No matter how much you contribute — in a one-time gift or every month — know that we're very grateful for all of the support we've received.

We know it's been a difficult year. We've all tightened our belts, been under strain with worry about what the future will bring, and felt sorrow and anger. We've also felt moments of love, and even joy, and seen just how much this community can pull together to care of each other.

By giving today, you are making sure that TucsonSentinel.com continues to report on Tucson and Pima County with the integrity and tenacity you've come to expect from us.

Thank you — and please welcome Bennito L. Kelty when he shows up with notebook and camera in hand, ready to report on news that matters to Tucson!

About Report for America

Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities. Launched in 2017, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides Americans with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and rebuild trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization with an established track record of training and supporting teams of emerging journalists around the world, including the recent launch of Report for the World in partnership with local newsrooms in India and Nigeria.

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Bennito L. Kelty, TucsonSentinel.com's new IDEA reporter.

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