Can Report for America build trust in local news? A view from two communities

April 8, 2022

This study looks at a local news capacity-building initiative in two communities where residents have long complained of stigmatizing news coverage: Pike County, in Eastern Kentucky,and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.  That initiative is Report for America, a project that seeks to place 1,000 reporters in local newsrooms by 2022 by paying half the reporter’s salary.

Wright’s encounter illustrates the current of distrust against which many Report for America fellows can find themselves swimming—after all, the top criteria for newsroom selection, according to Report For America’s site, is that it is aimed at an “urgent need” where “topics, communities, or geographic areas” have been “under-covered.

Some 500 miles away in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood of Austin, Report for America fellows had to grapple with representing the Chicago Sun-Times, an outlet known in that community primarily for its crime coverage, which many of the residents we spoke with saw as skewed in favor of the police

Entering communities where mutually beneficial relationships between residents and news outlets may have collapsed—or were never established—where can Report for America fellows begin? Can they build trust? And how do they balance their mission to offer coverage for the communities they are covering with the structural necessity to appeal to the broader audiences of their outlets


this study looks at those efforts within the larger communication context of each community. We examine how residents assess outlets that cover their area, focusing on perceptions of three components or factors of trust: accuracy and credibility, respectful and equitable representations, and benevolence of the journalist’s or outlet’s motives. These factors are subjective by nature—they describe community members’ perceptions of their own experience of interacting with the media, both as subjects and as readers.

 the county’s median household income still trails state averages—just under $33,000, compared with the state average of nearly $47,000—and nearly 30% of residents are estimated to be below the federal poverty line ,This part of Eastern Kentucky, 

2nd is  the Austin neighborhood on the city’s western edge of Chicago

Increasing public trust in news 

anyone attempting an intervention in a local news  must be mindful of place and power dynamics.

  • In Pike County, for example, residents pointed to a history of outsiders—not just “coastal elites” but people coming from other parts of their own state—trying to take advantage of their community. Because of this, participants were finely attuned to notice a range of triggering practices, from overt, clearly exploitative parachute journalism to subtle ways a well-intentioned outsider would emphasize story elements that a local resident would not. In Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, a history of racist misuse of authority left many residents doubting the motives of journalists, particularly when they were seen to include authorities in reporting that left out community members. Participants were critical of news coverage that perpetuated stereotypes connecting their community to crime and crisis.
  • In both places, participants expressed a wariness of journalists’ motives, concern that they might deliberately represent the area to conform to stereotypes, and a sensitivity to details that could signal that a story was intended for an external audience.
  • Residents in rural Kentucky and inner-city Chicago shared a sense that RFA fellows’ stories were more about their communities than for them, but participants acknowledged that circulating more complete narratives about their communities was not a small thing. While RFA Co-founder Steve Waldman stressed that RFA’s goal was to help communities get better coverage for themselves, RFA came into being at a moment following the 2016 US elections when journalists felt keenly that the outcome of the election would have surprised them less if only they had understood these communities better.
  • Given this need, it is natural that RFA would dispatch fellows to report on communities that have been stereotyped or overlooked for large regional outlets. In communities where these outlets rarely sent reporters, or where residents felt that all coverage had been negative, publishing stories at variance with the stereotypes those residents dislike and resent can be a meaningful contribution. Participants suggested that, even if stories weren’t written specifically for them, circulating more nuanced stories about their communities could have a material impact, making it more likely that outsiders might visit or invest.
  • We believe RFA interventions in Austin and Pike County offered the potential to contribute to more trusting relationships between news media and local residents. RFA fellows were motivated to share community stories, and to try and represent communities respectfully and accurately. But in Pike County and Austin, these efforts were limited. Because typical reporting focuses on one-way relationships with residents, in which regional outlets connect with them merely as sources for stories intended for their broader readership, or as readers among that broader readership, the ways that community members can see to be involved in the process of journalism are limited. In our focus groups, residents envisioned a variety of additional pathways through which they could be involved in the reporting process. And the structure of the fellowships—where reporters were tasked with covering vast areas, and required to conduct service projects but not community outreach—made it especially difficult to establish deliberate feedback loops that would have served both journalists and the residents in our focus groups. When we told residents about RFA, they responded favorably. But, at least in these early cases, RFA fellows and outlets have not been able to prioritize deep relationships with communities they cover.

In the pages that follow, we share more of our findings, and offer recommendations for ways forward.

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Matt, explained, “If it’s anything written about Eastern Kentucky [that] doesn’t originate in Eastern Kentucky, I’m probably not going to believe it.” Several referenced the Lexington Herald-Leader in the context of coverage by outsiders, suggesting the paper tended to cover Eastern Kentucky unfairly, if at all.

Wright has gone on to file about four stories a week on a range of topics, including water and environmental issues, economic development efforts, and the local schools. Wright has 13 counties to cover, but many of his stories were about Pike County, where he is based.

Most participants said they appreciated that they could go to the News Express for local stories and possibly see their child in the paper. But several complained the News Express tended to be opinionated, and few were willing to subscribe to get past the paper’s online paywall.

Regarding the Herald-Leader, most participants expressed some variation of the following sentiment, similar to the attitude of the men Wright met at the health clinic:

2- they’re biased

But “Is he a local boy?”

Wright said that, when he met skeptics of the Herald-Leader as he was reporting, he would sometimes tell them, “Maybe after this story, you’ll change your mind.” But the skeptical participants we met either were not reading these stories, or, if they had read them, didn’t know they were written by someone based in the area. None of our focus group participants had heard of Report for America or Wright.

A year in, Wright admitted to having second thoughts about the decision.“It would be really valuable to have an office with a sign to show people when they’re driving through town that’s like, ‘Hey, we’re here!’” he conceded.

Balancing local and state-wide audiences 

Wright said there were occasionally stories he had to drop because they were too hyperlocal. “We’re not the daily paper in Pikeville,” Stamper said. Both men agreed they were not trying to compete with the Appalachian News Express. But, for the stories that met the Herald-Leader’s threshold, Wright said he still works to consider both local and statewide audiences. “I try to write the stories in a way that makes sense for both and, like, matter to both,” he said.

In our discussion groups, we gave participants a Herald-Leader story by Wright and a story by a reporter at the News Express without providing their bylines or the names of the outlet. Wright’s piece was about a major effort to clean up trash at an area lake. Several participants,  expressed surprise that the Herald-Leader “ would actually care about what’s going on at an East Kentucky lake” when we told them which paper had printed each story. He was impressed that the story didn’t say “anything derogatory about Eastern Kentucky

When RFA first planned to come to the region, it considered partnering with the News Express to help to ensure strong ties with the community, and act as a kind of exchange program with the Herald-Leader. RFA officials explored having Wright work out of the News Express office and share his stories with the Herald-Leader. Jeff Vanderbeck, the publisher of the News Express, says he told RFA, “If you want to talk about the good things, and you want to dig deep enough and get the true story, I’m all about it.”  He was not happy about RFA working with the Herald-Leader:


“I found a lot wrong with this story,” Austin resident Kianna said, responding to a 200-word article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the police shooting of a man in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago’s West Side. “They heard gunshots, gunfire near this address. This young man [the victim] was sitting on his porch minding his own business.

Most participants in our focus groups agreed that there were many gaps in the Sun-Times story. “The story jumps right into, ‘The officers found the man on a porch, and then he ran from them.’ Who knows what the officers did to provoke that?


In our focus groups, Austin residents’ reactions to crime coverage illustrate how such coverage can undermine key factors of trust—how people perceive a news outlet’s accuracy, fairness of representation, and motives. First, participants spoke not only of stories seeming incomplete, but also being inaccurate. Lee complained that television outlets were so eager to be the first to break a story that they didn’t devote adequate time to verifying details: “A young man’s life was taken. He was three different ages. He was 27, 32, and 42 if you listened to three different news.”[26] Participants also complained that local news did not represent Austin fairly, as reporters “always get the worst person to represent the community


The Sun-Times and its rival the Chicago Tribune both seemed “cold.” “It doesn’t seem like it’s for the minority group. It’s like the, maybe more elite or upper class,” she said. “ …‘I’m on my way to work. I want my news really quick.


the rushed quality of the major papers’ writing with the writing in the Weekly, which she considered “warm,” “because it has a stake in the community, so it cares about what the community is doing.” These views did not seem to shift six months in. Most participants considered the Sun-Times a source for city-wide news, and remained concerned  about negativity and coverage that favored the viewpoints of police or politicians.


Participants also offered ideas for community outreach, including “office hours” held by journalists at local churches or libraries on a rotation of topics, open forums, and weekly community-journalist meetings. One group suggested journalists or editors host sessions to work on the production and editing of a story (or the layout of a paper) with community members, “So the community learns how this is done.”

As in Pike County, there was an emphasis on providing actionable information, such as directions to resources on health, land ownership, and finances. Finally, there was an emphasis on the need for reporters to spend time in communities even beyond coming in for an hour to get story ideas. One participant indirectly mentioned a proposal by Cook County commissioner Richard Boykin to give city employees—police officers, emergency medical technicians, teachers—free homes in

 he wondered if there were similar advantages for journalists. “Not saying they have to move here, but they have some stake in it, not just, ‘I’m getting the story,’” he said. “They get to know the young people in the community. They build relationships.

A hyperlocal alternative 

several forums work in the same area and study looked to find what people there felt about it 


resident, Dwayne, said the reporting was so local it made him feel directly connected to the newsroom: “What is really funny to me is that I know a nice amount of these people, and I was like, ‘What? He said what?’” Dwayne said the story showed “how people are affected by decisions made in the community,” and that it felt close to home.

Austin Weekly editor Romain says his newspaper may lack brand recognition, but it fills a gap in what was the largest community area in Chicago

“There are no real news publications or outlets that service those local community needs like we do,” he says.  Romain explains the paper thrives at a “granular level.” This includes city meetings hosted by aldermen or the police, but also extends to lighter fare:

There’s value to having somebody, a local newspaper reporter at a national night out event, or, you know, local basketball tournament, so that people see more perspective about their community rather than just what’s reported on the TV news or in the large newspapers


Recommendations for these study try to show how the make things work and what they have gained from this study, I can ignore it Since I am just need to build a knowledge of press reporting at this step 

it would be possible to come  back , it depend o of how much deep knowledge I need to get about press reporting , see how they made the solutions with better understanding.

Specially for my awesome groups