First Draft launches US 2020 Local News Fellowship

The project will build capacity and encourage collaboration in local news ecosystems where disinformation is likely to flourish.

Journalists and students collaborating at Colorado Migrahack, September 2019. Credit: Alyson McClaran

Surveys of the American public, on both a national and local level, show they trust local media at higher rates than national news sources.

But, across the country, local news is in a crisis. Since 2004, 1,800 local print outlets have closed down, many of them major publications, and more than half of the country’s counties now have only one newspaper left to report the local news, often only on a weekly basis. With fewer local reporters on the beat, agents of disinformation are taking advantage of the vacuum created, setting up imposter local news sites to push their agenda or harvest clicks for advertising.

First Draft already has a massive initiative underway to train local journalists how to track and effectively counter information disorder where they live. And now, with support from Democracy Fund, First Draft is launching a Local News Fellowship project to place at least five paid local news fellows in US communities expected to see large amounts of information pollution in this election year, such as Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida. 

Managed by Nancy Watzman, formerly director of the Colorado Media Project and outreach editor for Knight Commission on Trust Media and Democracy, the Local News Fellowship will provide intensive training and support from First Draft’s US team as well as a $20,000 stipend through a sponsoring news organization or news collaborative.

Rather than serving a single news organization, fellows will seek to collaborate with a number of local news outlets in their region. Research on previous collaborative projects from First Draft showed increased levels of trust in reporting about disinformation when it came from collaborations of news organizations. Meanwhile, across the country, local news organizations have begun to form partnerships to cover issues more deeply than they can do alone with dwindling newsroom resources — from Resolve Philadelphia’s work on economic inequality to Stories of the Ohio, on environmental concerns with the local water supply.

First Draft Local News fellows will learn how to train others, and create non-branded locally oriented reporting that can be used as a jumping off point for other newsrooms in their region. They will also have the opportunity to receive support to organize public meetings at libraries, coffee shops and other places people gather, to build awareness on the local online environment and support for local news. 

With the project on a tight timeline, First Draft seeks applications from local journalists wishing to apply for a fellowship. First Draft seeks to fill these positions by Feb. 5, and fellows must be available to attend a three-day training session in New York City, expenses paid, the week of March 11-13.

For more information on how to apply, please follow this link.

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