Investigative reporting is becoming rarer. Local news might be dying. And people are becoming polarized over the media (like everything else). That’s where The GroundTruth Project comes in. A non-profit media organization, The GroundTruth team goes places and does things that most publications don’t have the bandwidth to do. They sent a group of journalists across the country to “cross divides.” They are starting a fellowship program to bring back local reporting. Luckily, we had a chance to speak with Kevin D. Grant, the co-founder and executive editor of TheGroundTruth Project, about all that they’re doing to help give media a good name.
Your organization sponsored a trip across the country for a group of reporters called Crossing the Divide. What were the divides your reporters were examine? What was the one or two most intriguing things they found?
The team traveled more than 4,000 miles, from Massachusetts to California, with major stops in Kentucky, Minnesota and Montana. Along the way they explored divides around access to quality education, health care and employment as well as ideological disagreements about immigration, gentrification and the environment. A really intriguing insight the team had was that while culture war issues are divisive, there is actually a lot of consensus on localized issues.
In Pikeville, Kentucky, everyone agreed that limited broadband access is a major problem and no one trusts the big providers.
In Missoula, Montana, everyone could agree that the firefighting budget in Washington, D.C. needed to be revised to separate the emergency/disaster funding from prevention funding instead of lumping it all together, whether or not they believe in climate change.
You’ve also just begun an endeavor called Report for America. What’s the thinking behind placing reporters in local newsrooms across the country?
Wherever local news organizations have gone out of business or dramatically cut their staffs, information vacuums have developed that are quickly filled by more polarizing national news sources ranging from Fox and MSNBC to Breitbart and InfoWars. By strengthening local newsrooms and their relationships with their communities, we can create a better informed public which believes that facts matter and that civil dialogue is worthwhile.
A Report for America trainee
By hiring local journalists who are visible and accessible to the people they serve, we remind the public that journalists are indeed human beings too, not conspirators in some monolithic thing called “The Media” that is hell-bent on misrepresenting and misleading Americans. Plus, we hope to strengthen bonds of trust between audiences and news organizations, which will become even more important as technology makes it even easier to spread disinformation across the digital world.
You edit a column called Common Ground. What issue(s) do you think it’s easier to find common ground on than people realize?
Great question. Some of our most hot-button issues actually have greater consensus than we typically acknowledge. The majority of Americans support a higher level of gun control. The majority believe in climate change and support some action to combat it. Most want the U.S. government to ensure all Americans have health care. And, as your work with The Citizen’s Story confirmed, we tend to agree on the core, constitutionally protected American values like free and fair elections, a system of checks and balances, free assembly and freedom of the press. We believe in serving our country in different ways, which is why Report for America emphasizes that journalism is a public service.
What’s an issue in American life that reporters/journalists aren’t covering enough that you think people should know about?
I don’t think that the country will every truly come together unless we overcome our deep structural inequality. Journalism has an essential role in exploring our widening divisions along racial, ethnic and economic lines, which are pitting people and communities against one another as an increasingly rarefied cohort sucks up most of the wealth. Since my days at the international news site GlobalPost, I’ve been working with reporters around the world to tell stories of inequality and unfortunately our society is only becoming more unequal. Whether you’re reporting on farmers, teachers, doctors or tech entrepreneurs, it becomes clear that it’s not about how hard a person works. Inequality is rooted in policy. And policy can be demystified, explained and humanized by reporters.
In general, people seem disenchanted with the media right now. How can non-profit media held assuage people’s concerns?
Nonprofit media, including public media, has earned a reputation for being more attentive to readers, viewers and listeners. There is a deeper relationship in part because the nonprofit model depends on audiences contributing financial support because they value journalism. In other words, it speaks to them. But a focus on communities’ needs doesn’t have to be limited to the nonprofits. There’s an incredible movement in journalism right now, exemplified by organizations like Hearken, City Bureau, Spaceship Media and Outlier Media, to really listen to the public and incorporate everyone into the journalistic process. That builds trust and brings communities together, which is exactly what America needs right now.